Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects. – Dalai Lama

I struggle with report cards. They’re when the requirements of working for a large public bureaucracy directly conflicts  with what I believe is best for my students. Most years I swallow hard and just get it done, but four years ago was, for some reason, particularly difficult. I decided there had to be a better way, and my search for answers lead me right to Joe Bower.

Joe blogged about how he’d resolved his similar struggles with grading and report cards and I needed to know more. Was it really possible to do things differently? Even in a regular public school classroom? How?

I wrote to Joe:

After just finishing my term 1 reports I’m ready to give up on grading. I’m hesitating however because I’m required to do report cards with grades. How do you handle that?

Joe responded almost immediately. He was open, supportive, encouraging and made some suggestions. When our discussion went deeper he suggested we Skype to discuss further, which we did. I was amazed that he was so willing to take the time to talk with someone he barely knew about this. In doing so he fundamentally changed how I thought about assessment, and influenced how I teach still to this day.

As a result of that interaction I began to really pay attention to Joe and what he was doing. The more I read his blog, the more excited I became. It was thrilling to discover that a teacher could be open, outspoken, honest and fearless about the kind of schools and classrooms we should be creating. I aspired to be as courageous, uncompromising and passionate as Joe in what I wrote and said and thought.

Eleven months later Joe asked if he could share one of my blog posts and I delightedly agreed. I was now part of a select group. Joe thought my ideas were worthy of sharing. I don’t know how many others work he shared but I’m sure it was in the hundreds. He was generous and didn’t care who got the credit.

Joe and I connected through social media on and off and I was impressed with his progress. He was getting widespread recognition and raising the issues and concerns he cared about wherever he went. He was part of an elite group of people who were making classrooms better places for students and teachers and influencing how we think about education, and remarkably he was doing it while he was a classroom teacher.

In 2014 I was invited to be on a panel with a well known educator. As we chatted before the panel he said that he’d been reading my blog and that I reminded him of “…a bearded Joe Bower”. I’m not sure he intended it to be the compliment I took it as, but I was elated. To be compared favorably with Joe, to be mentioned in the same sentence, was as good as it got.

These stories I have about Joe aren’t special or unique. I’m only one of thousands of educators, and by extension hundreds of thousands of students, that Joe influenced. He lead by example, with the passionate strength of his convictions.

I’ll miss Joe’s leadership and support, and judging by the outpouring of condolences so will many others. We’ve lost a giant in the efforts to create more progressive and student centered schools. It’s a huge loss.