Oh Canada – a tribute to Joe Bower

I have a distinct fondness for Canadians. I’m on to my second Chair of Governors to hail from that proud nation and I’ve been blessed with both of them – exceptional people in their chosen fields and as Chairs. My late great-uncle, Jim Quigley, was a World War II veteran in the Canadian Navy too, and it was at his funeral that I developed a love for their anthem Oh Canada! It’s fairly short and ended up being played two and a half times as Uncle Jim’s coffin draped in the Maple Leaf entered the crematorium, colouring a sad moment with a touch of comedy.

I have developed a fondness and respect over the past couple of years for another Canadian, but I never had the privilege of meeting him, and I now never will. I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of teacher Joe Bower at the weekend. I got to learn of Joe and his thoughts on education, and specifically about behaviour, soon after joining Twitter. I was instantly attracted to Joe’s views as they chime with my own. But, I had yet to meet many who thought that way or were brave enough to publicly admit as much. Those of us who espouse such approaches can be labelled as soft, permissive or just plain wrong, irrespective of the success of our work.

Joe’s blog For the Love of Learning is a rich resource and the aim was to, in his own words, “challenge ‘traditional’ schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. I intend on using this blog to uproot some of the most deeply rooted myths that continue to distract people from a love for learning. And I am going to have fun doing it!”

The blog covers a wide range of issues and there is something in there for everybody, but his section Rethink Discipline is my personal favourite. The post Consequences for whom? states his views on the use of consequences and sanctions, as well as rewards.

We have to stop reacting to misbehavior by saying:

“He has done something bad; now something bad must be done to him.”

And we need to start saying:

“We have a problem here; how are we going to solve it together?”

This view upsets many as consequences and sanctions are seen by them as the foundations of solid behaviour policies. I am reminded of the time Basil Fawlty attacked his car for failing to start in the middle of the road.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 20.55.18

I saw Dave Whitaker use this very effectively in a training session once and I’ve now nicked it myself. It reminds me of the continued use of sanctions that do nothing to improve the behaviour of a child. The only purpose they serve is to make the adult feel better – Something must be done. Something that looks tough. This is that something. It is claimed that the situation has been dealt with. And yet the car remains there, unmoved and still unable to start.

Another of my favourites that many find challenging is Are children in control of their misbehavior?

I frame a child’s difficulties not necessarily as a choice that needs to be convinced otherwise — instead, I see a child’s difficulties as proof that the child is lagging skills, and it’s our job to help teach them those skills.

Are children in control of their misbehavior?

Who cares.

Those of us who work with children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties know that Joe is right. It is a view borne out of experience, of repeated failure to get things right, of repeated failure to improve things, of extreme situations that force you to confront the obvious – what you are doing is not working.

I’m sad that I’ll never get the chance to meet Joe in person, but I was fortunate to be able to let Joe know via Twitter how useful his blog has been to me and to let him know how influential he has been. I have recommended his blog to NQTs when I work with them on behaviour and will continue to do so.

Joe will be sadly missed by many, but I am confident that his thoughts and his actions will leave a legacy that will last for many years.


One thought on “Oh Canada – a tribute to Joe Bower

  1. Hi Jarlath
    I was so touched by what you have written I sent out to teachers at St. Joseph’s last night. This morning have had 2 enthusiastic emails back today saying how much they value what you have written and the links to Joe’s articles.
    Thank you for this

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