Big Ideas Fest - The Action Collab Facilitator Perspective


Our director of Action Collabs, Andrea Saveri chatted with facilitator Emily Simas to learn about her experience.

Action Collab facilitators see the Big Ideas Fest (BIF) from a unique perspective. While leading their cohorts through various Action Collab activities, they get to see the transformation of participants up close and personal. From the first improv activity to final reflections, facilitators watch the journey of their cohort as they step outside of comfort zones, make breakthroughs in practice, forge new friendships, and gain inspiration to recharge their education batteries.

While chatting with one of ISKME’s facilitators, Emily Simas, to learn about her experience as a facilitator, together we came up with three central themes that arise throughout the Big Ideas Fest experience.


Deep Connection Through Engagement 

Big Ideas Fest is not a sit back and watch experience. There are many opportunities to engage one-on-one or in groups, whether it is in Action Collab activities, round table discussions, the opening art activity, or at the dessert party. Through these various settings BIFniks (Big Ideas Fest participants) are able to move beyond surface interactions and develop real relationships that lead to collaboration. 

Emily credits her favorite tenet of improv, “make your partner look brilliant,” as helping to foster engagement in the Action Collabs. This tenet encourages people to put aside personal agendas and focus on supporting their partner. It creates a generative environment that keeps people in a dynamic co-creative relationship rather than retreating to silos alone with their ideas. After using the tenets of improv to work through collaborative challenges, participants express a deeper sense of connection and camaraderie.


A New Normal

One goal of Big Ideas Fest is to provide an immersive setting where participants can practice new collaboration and design techniques that are immediately transferable back to their home environments. Participants hear facilitators repeat various tenets of improv as reminders to be open and provocative, just as a yoga instructor might remind you to stretch and breathe. Participants walk away with a new normal for their collaborative problem-solving work. Countless BIFniks report that they hang a flip chart with the tenets of improv in their staff meetings and use “Yes, And” as a guideline in their brainstorming sessions. It’s exciting for us each year to hear stories from BIFniks about how they are stepping up and gathering user experience data to inform decision-making and problem-solving in their work.

Emily mentioned that her favorite part of the Action Collab activities is the Analogous Settings solution brainstorm. This is when participants look outside of education and use other settings to imagine solutions. Guiding questions for this activity include, for example: What other industries address a challenge like this successfully? How do they solve it? 

“I find that’s when people really start to get creative and begin to discover more innovative solutions. As educators, we’re so focused on the learners in front of us, we don’t look outside of education often enough to embrace new ideas. The analogous settings exercise is liberating,” Emily shared.

The new normal also involves shifting one’s goal from solving everything to the simple fix. Educators often want to do it all, but sometimes doing one small thing differently is the best way to have big impact. 

Said Emily, “It’s in teachers’ nature to want to do it all and to want to get it right. Every 15 minutes is well planned for the entire semester. It is hard to let go, not know how something is going to turn out. It’s great to see BIFniks “get it” when they land on a small fix that has real impact.”


Emergent Leadership

Many Big Ideas Fest participants leave re-energized and transformed. Sometimes we hear educators say they leave having reclaimed the original motivation and inspiration that got them into teaching in the first place. Big Ideas Fest is a time for educators to reconnect with their own inspirations and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose. 

Youth participants experience similar transformations. Last year a group of high school students approached us about learning how to facilitate Action Collabs. This year they will be co-leading a cohort. Students are an integral part of Big Ideas Fest, particularly the Action Collab cohort experience, because they are designing and collaborating alongside experienced educators.

Emily remarked how the high school students in her cohort started out a bit shy and reserved, but once they contributed their input on post-its and engaged with others, by the end of the session they were leading the group. “I enjoyed watching the young people in my group emerge as leaders. By the last day, they were leading their small groups and offering lots of input from their experience.”

We look forward to seeing what new connections and leaders emerge from Big Ideas Fest this year and we hope you will join us this December 4-7, 2016 in San Jose, California. Register here 

October 18, 2016