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Review: "Just Look Up" Book by Marc A. Gonzalez

Earlier this year I attended my first CADA (California Association Directors of Activities) conference, which was fun! Even over Zoom, it was fun! Even after a whole day of virtual teaching and grading and conferencing and rehearsing, I looked forward to logging on and having fun attending the CADA workshops, keynotes, and events. One of the highlights, in fact the most fun I had during this fun conference, was attending Joe Beckman’s workshop. Beckman has charisma, energy, and palpable passion which transcend virtual screens. His balance between video and chat discussion questions made the 45-minute session fly by. As a participant, I was one of a few to win a copy of his book! It arrived a few weeks later, and I was excited all over again.

Reading through Just Look Up re-ignited that same fun passion I felt when attending Beckman’s workshop. In his book, Beckman provides five “life-saving phrases every human needs to hear.” With a healthy balance of anecdotes, statistics, self-deprecating humor, and some extreme vulnerability, Beckman’s book isn’t just quick tips to enhance your classroom management or teaching attitude, but rather a lifelong series of implementations to better your career and the impact you can have on students.

The Five Phrases: Love YOU; Push Through; Just Look Up; Fail On; and Yeah, Toast! (I’ll admit it was the latter phrase that hooked me in to Beckman’s philosophy and encouragement.)

Love YOU: Put your mask on before helping others, please. Beckman writes, “When it comes to our own selves…A voice filled judgement and shame. A voice focused on negativity and self-doubt. A voice that constantly questions, ‘Am I even worthy to receive this oxygen in the first place?’” (pg. 20).

In this chapter, Beckman introduces the NEs, “never enoughs.” He encourages readers to silence the NEs to a whisper and to help re-focus our thoughts on what we are and we could be. His strategies and mindset are easily digestible and all immediately implementable.

Push Through: Events and situations will come up which are seemingly insurmountable to bounce back or recover from. This is life. Beckman writes, “Yes, pain can close doors and put an end to dreams. That part is difficult, and while you’re in it, it can seem like it will never end…But I also want you to know this: pain can truly open doors and reveal a new set of dreams. Pain ended up being one of my greatest teachers. The same is possible for you.” (pg. 56).

In this chapter, Beckman opens up the vulnerability valve as he dives into his injury-ending sports career and what it was like being a working actor. His relatability to take specific experiences and apply them to everyday hardships makes this chapter a foundation for action during trying times.

Just Look Up: The book’s title is in the book. Yay! Beckman writes, “When we look up, we see where kindness and compassion can be used to make an impact on someone else…Even if it doesn’t heal the pain of what they are going through, it’s the only way to know if they need help in the first place.” (pg. 80).

In this chapter, Beckman discusses, in depth, addiction and disconnection in our students; he discusses how it affects them negatively and what can be done to, well, look up and do something about it. This is the phrase I have implemented the quickest, especially on my classroom mask breaks. Instead of checking my phone for five minutes, which many of my students do, I just walk outside and wait. And you know what? More and more students have joined me outside, without their phones, because they just want to chat and share and joke and connect. Go figure!

Fail On: If there are only few certainties in life, let me say that failing is definitely one of them. Failure, for people of all ages and abilities, will face failures during their lifetime. So, if it’s a certainty, in lieu of prevention, what can we do to deal with this? Beckman writes, “You see, unlike some topics where content is scarce, failure provides me with an abundance of options.” (pg. 96).

In this chapter, readers are given the choice to choose to Fail On rather than doing everything in their power to experience No Failure. Since failure is inevitable, I side with Beckman in trying to navigate and manage the times I fail and embrace the unexpected failures. As Beckman writes, it provides options, learning experiences, and opportunities to be vulnerable with our students. I do this often. When I fall short, I tell my students and they see me as a human being, not just a teacher. It places us on a level playing field, which is such a rarity, by nature of teacher-student structures, in the classroom.

Yeah, Toast!: It’s plain and simple; toast rocks and we should celebrate that. Beckman writes, “When it [toast] popped up, Finn [one of Beckman’s children] would look at me, eyes wide, with this amazing look of surprise on his face like, Whoa…I had NO idea that was coming! Then, he would raise his hands in the air and shriek as if he had just won the lottery.” (pg. 119).

In this chapter, the little things are brought to light in the context of celebrating. Not shushing, but raising the volume; not shrinking, but growing excitement for life’s celebrations. If failures are inevitable, then life should be spent embracing the failures and celebrating every win you experience, big or small. Having known Beckman solely through his CADA virtual workshop, Twitter, and this book, I can verify with confidence that he is an adopter of Finn’s enthusiasm for the little things, and it speaks volumes in his writing.

In addition to the stats, stories, and other encouragements, Beckman breaks down the phrases with actionable steps he calls Caveman Wisdoms, making it easy and applicable to incorporate his advice. If a fast-paced read of encouragement, vulnerability, and humor is what you’re looking for, I encourage you to purchase a copy of Just Look Up and pore through it; I promise the moment you look up from Beckman’s pages you’ll be encouraged and ready for the next celebration, the next failure, and the next opportunity to make a connection. Yeah, toast!

Book, and more information about Joe Beckman, can be found and purchased at:

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