Saturday, March 12, 2011

A short conversation with...Joe Bower @joe_bower

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Joe Bower

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for 10 years. Most of my career has been spent teaching grades 6-8. My current teaching assignment has me teaching in the local hospital where we provide short term crisis stabilization and inpatient assessment to children under the age of 18 who present with a wide range of mental health related difficulties. Essentially it's a one-room school house for students ranging from elementary to high school.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

When I started teaching I was very focused on power and control. I assigned loads of homework, dished out huge penalties for late assignments, assigned punishments for rule breaking behavior and averaged my marks to get a final grade. I did some of these things because I was trained to do so in university. However, most of these teaching strategies were being done mindlessly, and like a lot of teachers, I was simply teaching the way I was taught.

Today, I embrace the idea that learners construct their understanding from the inside while interacting with their environment, rather than by internalizing directly from the outside. I provide learning environments that are in a context and for a purpose, and in doing so, I work with students (rather than doing things to them) so they experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

In November 2004, I was ready to walk away from teaching. I was desperate for something better, and that's when I came across Alfie Kohn's article The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement. After that, I dedicated myself to challenging traditional schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. For me the change was indeed quite fast; I experienced a pedagogical revolution. The day after I read Kohn's article, I returned my students' essays without a grade. And, as they say, the rest is history. But I do try and share my stories on my blog: for the love of learning.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

My most fundamental pedagogical changes took place in 2004 which was well before joining Twitter in 2009. Initially, I only joined because I saw that Alfie Kohn had joined, and was using Twitter as a way to share. Like a lot of people, I joined Twitter without even realizing what it was good for. I played with it for a few days and quit. Months later, I gave it another shot, and got 'it'.

For me, Twitter has been a way to find like-minded educators. The laws of probability tell us that we have a better chance of finding like-minded professionals when we broaden our search past just those we work with in the physical world. Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to find my tribe.

Joe's Blog


  1. Thanks for letting me participate in this! What a cool idea.


  2. No problem Joe. It is my pleasure to have you participate.Thank you very much.

  3. Do you find that your philosophy on grading is easier to implement in the teaching roll you now have at the hospital-one room schoolhouse? What would it be like if you were in a more traditional school? How would you work with administration to advance your philosophy. You project a very strong point of view. Might it be hard to get a traditional school to accept your philosophy?


  4. "Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to find my tribe." I think I'll use that line! Thanks again Joe for being such an inspiration. Innovators like you give the rest of us the confidence to continue doing what we believe in.

  5. I've only been in my current non-traditional teaching assignment for 3 weeks, so most of my experience has been in a traditional setting.

    I will say this, it is infinitely easier to adopt a more child centered, progressive pedagogy when you have supportive and open-minded administration.

    Many teachers are likely to experience a wide range of administrative types: When teachers are challenging and changing their pedagogy and teaching practices, they need to have an uber-supportive administration. It's important that administration provide a safe haven where innovation can incubate.

    However, it is likely that teachers will also face unsupportive administrators that can take the form of either micro-managing meddlers or absentee landlords. Either way, these unsupportive administrators tend to not provide the kind of support and safety innovative teachers require inorder to stave off saboteurs from colleagues, parents, and other stakeholders that wish to see school done the same way its always been done.

    Progressive education is non-partisan, and can be implemented in any setting where the professionals wish to focus less on the school's needs and more on the children's needs.

    In the end, pockets of innovation and progressive education are a result of people who understand how children learn.