Dr. Szilvia Fodor
The 18th International Conference of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA) was held in the Hague, the Netherlands between 31 August and 3 September, 2022. Its title was ‘Empowering every talent together. Creative ways to enable personal growth’, which – together with the beautiful, colourful butterfly-shaped logo – drew our attention to the personal strengths and individual developmental pathways of the gifted. Within this 21st-century topic the conference put a special emphasis on the stimulating environments of talent development, nurturing creativity and optimal development, but also put diversity and social responsibility into the focus. The conference venue also helped the cc. 800 participants to identify with the topic: the Hague is the administrative and royal capital of the Netherlands and it hosts the International Court of Justice, while the World Forum conference center is a deservedly famous symbol of internationality and intercultural diversity.
The first keynote speaker of the conference, Dr. Matt Zakreski, psychologist and expert of neurodiversity, created the basic dynamism of the conference with his lively and personal speech, in which he presented the psychological aspects of dealing with failure and opportunities to build resiliency. The second keynote speaker of the day, Ndondo Mutua Mulli (Board Director, Mully Children’s Family Operations Director) presented how their institution in Kenya aims to engage every child and youth to thrive and shine, both with the help of talent support and social work. On the 2nd full day of the conference Prof. Alexander Minnaert brought the challenges of twice exceptional students close to us in his presentation and shared the inclusive aspects of student support with the participants. Later on the day, we listened to Prof. Niamh Stack’s captivating presentation about why and how we need to build bridges between different disciplines, e.g. between psychology, pedagogy and neuroscience in order to better apply theoretical knowledge in everyday practice. On the 3rd day we listened to the lecture of Dr. Susan Baum, who has spent over four decades studying twice exceptional youngsters and what happens when advanced abilities collide with disabilities. During her session she shared lots of personal stories and suggested five key ways to meet these students’ needs.
In addition to the keynote presentations, participants also contributed to the diversity of the conference by sharing their own practical and research experiences. In addition to the classic paper, poster presentations and symposia, the organizers also introduced two less frequently used genres in the conference. One was the dynamic flash presentation, which is a presentation by young/starting researchers of 10 minutes followed by 20 minutes discussion, which was a perfect way to initiate a deeper professional discourse about a new topic. The other innovative type of presentation was the so-called inspirational talk, which is a TED-like talk with the intention to inspire the audience, for example by storytelling and/or sharing future perspectives. These new types of presentations made the course of the conference lively and varied, and also promoted the introduction, elaboration and understanding of new topics within giftedness.
In addition to the main conference, there were other parallel events that partially overlapped with the conference: there was a pre-conference with several interesting workshops related to eg. strengths, stress-management or spiritual giftedness, a parents’ meeting dedicated to parenting topics, a special Dutch program for participants from the Netherlands, and the Youth Platform of the ETSN (European Talent Support Network) also had an event. during which talented young people could deal with educational, psychological or self-knowledge topics that interested them.
There was no shortage of social activities either: in addition to the welcome reception in Madurodam and the conference dinner held at the beautiful seaside location, we had the opportunity to take part in a boat tour among the canals around The Hague, and several of us admired the museum and galleries of the city, including Vermeer’s famous painting of the Girl with a pearl earring.
I am sure that the experiences gathered here contribute not only to professional development, but also to the expansion of the social network within the ECHA community.