Talking education in Burnsville

Carla Staffa

TED event to replicate high-profile idea exchanges

Public radio listeners or YouTube surfers may recognize TED Talks as futuristic speeches by famous brainiacs such as Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.

But alongside high-profile TED conferences with the world’s leading thinkers are smaller local gatherings where smart, spirited people exchange and dissect ideas.

One of those is coming to Burnsville High School Saturday, Sept. 21. “Education Without Boundaries” is the theme of the daylong event, organized by BHS social studies teacher Carla Staffa.

Staffa said she’s close to finalizing a lineup of speakers with fresh ideas for improving education. They’ll include educators from Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 and experts from outside the district.

Organizers will also hand-select the audience to foster stimulating exchanges among a diverse group. Audience applications opened Aug. 1 and will close Aug. 10. The cost of a ticket to the event, which will be streamed live, is $45.

“We want a good representation of thought leaders, business leaders, education leaders and educators, all to be able to have this conversation about what they’ve just heard in these TED Talks,” Staffa said. “There will be long breaks where they can dialogue with the speakers and others about what they’ve just learned.”

The event, dubbed TEDxBurnsvilleED, is licensed by the TED Conference, a global nonprofit whose motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED events, which began in 1984, are held throughout the United States and in Europe and Asia.

TEDx events are TED-licensed but independently organized. Staffa said she was inspired to license a local event after her brother’s improv comedy group in Tokyo, Japan, was invited to participate in a TED teachers conference there.

“We are the first (TED) education event in what I like to say is the Upper Midwest,” said Staffa, who landed the license in April. “There isn’t one that’s close by that’s education-centered.”

Why education? Why now?

“We’re going to get into ideas,” Staffa said. “I’ve been teaching for 12 years, and I’m good at what I do. But what I do isn’t working anymore.”

The traditional model of teacher as knowledge source and student as willing vessel is “not how kids learn anymore,” she said. “It’s not the language they speak. It’s not how their brain functions.”

Staffa said she’s constantly searching for new teaching methods and ways to make herself a partner in her students’ learning.

“I went to 105 years of Catholic schooling,” she said jokingly, “and I taught originally how I was taught: ‘I’m going to stand up here and tell you everything I know. Good for you if you remember it all, you’re going to get an A.’ ”

TED rules guarantee programs with punch. Talks are limited to 18 minutes, with most clocking in at about half that. “We have seen three-minute talks be insanely powerful,” says the TEDxBurnsvilleED website. Potential speakers submitted videos with their applications.

Staffa credited Vicki Roy, a former District 191 School Board member with extensive ties to regional and statewide education groups, with helping her search for speakers.

Roy said she’s familiar with TED Talks from public television and radio. She’s a past chair of the Minnesota Alliance for Student Achievement and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, and a former board member of the Minnesota School Boards Association.

“I think many of us think of going to something like this and we’re preached to,” Roy said. “This is different, in that it is a very short period of time people have to give you their ideas. After a few of these ideas have been put out there, then you bring people together to have an opportunity to discuss them. It’s a very interactive thing, which lends itself to this whole idea of partnering and having opportunities for people to see how they fit in.”

Tickets will be limited to 100 in the school’s Mraz Center for the Performing Arts. Hours haven’t been finalized, but Staffa envisions using both morning and afternoon.

The event will be streamed live and video will be kept on the TEDxBurnsvilleED website, according to Staffa. It will also be submitted to the TEDxTalks YouTube site, she said.

Visit the event website ( for more information or to apply for a ticket.