As a Youth Motivator, Joe Beckman is on a mission to bring human connection back to schools.
Currently, Beckman’s work takes him into schools all across the country, where he is frequently hired to give talks on topics like leadership, overcoming hardship, and connection. Often, after these talks are over, Beckman will hang around the school all day, just talking with kids one-on-one in the hallways, cafeterias, and parking lots.
He believes this work is just as important – if not more so – than the talks he gives on stage, because it’s these personal interactions that help kids feel seen and motivate them to change.
“There are so many kids who just don’t feel connected to anybody. We talk about suicide and depression and anxiety and self-harm, and all of these issues are big problems in our world today,” he said. “But the way that we’re trying to solve these issues [as as society] is like putting a bandaid on a broken arm.”
Beckman says this is because so few of the solutions used to address student behavior and mental health in schools actually seek to understand students or focus on the root causes of these issues.
And throughout his professional roles working in schools over the years, he says there is one big common thread: human connection is at an all-time low, and it’s having a big impact on kids.
“When I look around, I see that all of the heads on the bus are down. Kids are just looking at their iPhones or screens. There’s no connection, and, partly because of technology, we’re losing these sacred spaces of connection that were once present for kids, like the bus and the cafeteria,” he said. “There is a direct correlation between human connection and depression and anxiety. I do think that one of the lowest-hanging fruits we can tackle in schools when trying to address students with these types of feelings is to provide the opportunity for kids to connect with one another and feel like they’re a part of something.”
Beckman will be one of the keynote speakers for the 2019 National Educators for Restorative Practices Conference, which will take place this November in Irving, Texas. Through his work on human connection, Beckman is a big proponent of Restorative Practices and says the schools with the healthiest cultures are the ones who are already using it in classrooms.
“Restorative Practices give kids the opportunity to connect and, at the end of the day, that’s where we need to move the needle,” he said. “We need to figure out how to not lose the human connection … because the lack of connection is infiltrating us in lots of different spaces and we don’t even know what the long-term consequences are going to be. I feel that my work is to bring this topic to light. It’s important that we talk about it and find ways for educators to bring connection back to the classroom.”
Beckman says one of his biggest priorities is helping teachers recognize the importance of making time for connection with students, even though many teachers feel that they just don’t have the time. Beckman believes that getting teachers to understand the positive benefits that connection can have on student motivation, academic performance, and behavior is key.
“It’s really getting educators to flip that switch,” he said. “It may seem like we’re taking a detour, but it’s really a shortcut.”