During the latter half of December, I spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences at the 2013 Big Ideas Fest (#BIF2013). I found it hard to explain to colleagues and family what exactly the experience had been like.  While I did learn new information and strategies for innovation in education, there was something much bigger that I brought home with me.  Over the holidays I read a quote from author Brené Brown that gave words to my biggest takeaway from the conference,

“Connection is why we are here.  It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

From the day I discovered the Big Ideas Fest in early 2013, to the final lunch goodbye on the last day of the conference, the theme of “connection” underpinned everything.  The level of detail that was placed on creating the culture of connection at the Big Ideas Fest was truly inspirational and also something one cannot fully appreciate until you are a part of it.

At registration, we were given buttons and asked to exchange with other participants. Yet these buttons asked us to connect with others and communicate our gratitude for having met them.  By letting someone know “you have inspired me” or “I learned something from you,” we were encouraged to share a moment with one another and appreciate the strengths of each person.

By molding the conference around learning and practicing the design thinking process, the Action Collaboratives gave participants an opportunity to build a community within a community.  While I have been to many conferences, I had never been asked to quickly turn new learning into action and through that action to build a collaboratively developed solution.  My involvement in “Action Collab #7” is what made the conference so impactful.  We laughed, created, struggled, nearly failed and most importantly connected with one another because we made it through, together.

The conference welcomed participants from all levels and areas of education, included youth as equal thought partners, and encouraged presenters and conference leaders to learn alongside participants.  Community was generated as we were challenged to appreciate everyone as individuals with valuable ideas and perspectives and not view titles, organizations, age or experience as filters for who could best solve our “big” problems.  We came together through shared meals, roasted marshmallows, thinking with our hands, being emotionally and intellectually challenged and even counting our FitBit steps.

Moving Forward

The Big Ideas Fest 2013 reminded me of why I am inspired by the direction the education community is headed.  We all have the ability and responsibility to create a culture of connection in everything we do.  While the fields of education and youth development seem to be in flux, one constant remains important to the success of the change we are experiencing. We need to connect.  Brené Brown said it perfectly, “Connection is why we are here.  It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”  We need to support our family, neighbors, colleagues and students to connect with one another, their passions and themselves and only by doing so will we be able to come together and solve our world’s “big” problems.