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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The most important thing I learned at ISTE, was in a taxi.

The following is a post from my LinkedIn blog.  The article is located at:

After 13 years of teaching in the classroom, frustrated with the education system, it became a moral imperative for me to take a year off to inspire and implement change in education.  The past year has been amazing!  Difficult, but amazing.  In the process I connected with and LinkedIn who both share strong and similar passion for education and helping to transform it.  I decided to accept a position at LinkedIn, where I will be helping to create professional development videos and articles, as well as speaking and working on strategy to help transform education.  Please connect with me on LinkedIn and join me in trying to revolutionize education.  My goal is to empower anyone who is working to empower students to learn how to learn, while they change the world. 

I wanted to post this on the ComPassion Based Learning blog as well, as I believe the story encapsulates the philosophy of the concept.

The most important thing I learned at ISTE, was in a taxi.

"What I was about to learn in that taxi cab was not only the most important thing I learned while at ISTE, but one of the most important things I have ever learned."
I was fortunate enough to attend the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia this year. The ISTE conference is a grueling experience consisting of:
  • Learning about the newest educational technology.
  • Learning engaging ways to use this technology to improve student learning.
  • Connecting with educators from around the world as they share inspiring stories & great advice.
I learned a lot over the four days at the ISTE conference. I learned too much. Too quickly. On my plane ride home, as well as over the next couple of days, I began to go over notes, business cards, and pamphlets in an attempt to recap everything I took in. Seven days, two Tylenols, and a glass of water later, and I’m still not done going through everything.   
At the conference, I saw a lot of things which have me hopeful and optimistic about the future of education with regards to empowering our students to be successful. Theeducation system has certainly taken the slow route to the 21st century, but it appears to be on the verge of arriving. 
While at the ISTE conference, I also developed concerns. The sheer volume of companies, products, and tools that are out there on the market is overwhelming.
Filtering the true game-changers from the gimmicky gadgets and games is going to be a critical challenge for educators.
Many of the products appear to be great tools to improve student learning, while others seem to be gimmicks. In the digital age, I believe that technology needs to become an interwoven part of the education process, but is vital that we spend our money wisely and make sure that the final outcome is always to improve student learning. This is a topic for hundreds of other posts, but it is not the main point of this post.
Learning about all of the educational technology was not the most valuable thing I learned at the conference. The most valuable part of the actual conference was the opportunity to connect. Connecting with other like-minded educators from around the world who happily share their stories, advice, and experiences is incredibly empowering. If you have not connected with other educators from outside of your district through Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, EdCamps or at conferences, I recommend trying it. You will be amazed at how much awesomeness is happening in schools around the world. In my opinion, if you are not connected, you are disconnected.  That shouldn’t be an option at this point.
Wednesday was my final day at the conference, and my brain was ready to throw in the towel.  Similar to the three previous days, I walked out of the convention center and raised my hand for a taxi.  Like every other time, a taxi quickly scooted over and picked me up
"What I was about to learn in that taxi cab was not only the most important thing I learned while at ISTE, but one of the most important things I have ever learned."


After letting the taxi driver know where I need to go, I always ask them how they are doing. Most of the time I get a response that lacks any passion or enthusiasm.  Usually I get a grunt from the driver, as if to say:  “I am driving you around in a taxi through busy traffic. How do you think I am doing?” 
This instance was different, however. Before I could ask the taxi drive how he was doing, he asked me how I was doing.  He then asked if I was attending the education conference. When I told him I had been, he asked me what I learned. As I told him, he listened intently and asked some thought-provoking questions. I started to get the feeling that he was passionate about educational technology, but in hindsight, I doubt he was.
The taxi driver then asked me if I enjoyed Philadelphia. I explained to him that I had been at the convention center every day from early morning until evening and didn’t a get a chance to see the city. He thought that this was unfortunate and warned that I would get home, have people asking how I liked Philly, but wouldn’t be able to respond to the question. He had a great point. I admitted that I wish I would have taken more time to see the city. 
“If you would like, I can take a slightly longer route to your hotel and show you a couple cool things.” he said.
I told him that I was getting low on money and couldn’t afford to spend too much on my taxi ride. He explained that it was a $25 flat rate for a taxi ride from the convention center to the hotel, and that he wouldn’t charge extra to take the longer route. I told him that I still had four hours before my plane departed, so I would appreciate if he could show me a couple cool things about Philadelphia. 
As he drove down the streets of Philadelphia, he pointed out the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin’s burial ground, and some other significant landmarks.  He showed me Independence Hall, the building which appears on the back of the $100 bill, which was where the Declaration of Independence and the constitution were signed. He then proceeded to Interstate 95.  He explained where we were in proximity to other cities like New York, Washington D.C., Baltimore and others which could be reached by traveling on I 95. He showed me the Delaware River, as well as the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges that crossed them. He explained that the land I saw on the other side of the river was New Jersey, and that this was the same river that George Washington and his troops crossed during a key point in the Revolutionary War, about 45 minutes north of where we were at. Wow!  This was fascinating!
He then asked if I had tried an “authentic Philly cheesesteak” while I was in town, and was shocked to hear that I had not. He asked if I wanted to grab a sandwhich from one of the most famous places in town, Tony Luke’s. He said that it is one of the most authentic sandwiches in town and a place that many famous people have
eaten a cheese steak at. I couldn’t say no. Thirty minutes later, and I was enjoying one of the most delicious sandwiches I had ever had. It was incredible!

We continued on our path which took us past the stadiums where the Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers play.  As we drove past Citizen’s Bank Park, home of the Phillies, he asked if I wanted to get my picture taken in front of the stadium next to the Mike Schmidt statue. This sounded like a great idea. Sure enough, we pulled over and he took my picture in front of the stadium.

As the taxi driver pulled up to the hotel, he told me that it was only $4 more to have him take me to the airport. He told me that if I wanted to, I could grab my bags and that he would wait. This sounded better than waiting for a shuttle, so I took him up on the offer.  Sure enough, when I came outside with my bag, he was waiting to load them into the car.
As we pulled up to the airport he told me that he hopes I enjoyed Philadelphia and some of the places that I was able to see. He pressed the button on the dash of his cab and said that the total was $29, the same price as every other taxi ride I had taken on this trip. I reached in my pockets and pulled out all of the money that I had left. It was $65. I gave it all to him and told him that I greatly appreciated everything that he done. He insisted that I did not have to give him that big of a tip, as he knew I was running low on money, but I told him that I wanted to. The tour he had given me of Philadelphia was worth a lot more than $65, and the lesson that he taught me was priceless. 
He got out of the taxi, said "God bless you", shook my hand, and said that he hopes I have a safe flight home. 

What was the lesson that I learned?

I immediately thought of this experience and how it relates to education. As educators, we are essentially the “Taxi Drivers” for our students as they are on a journey through life. Each day they arrive in our classroom and it is our job to take them to where they need to be.  We are the ones who are supposed to know where they need to go and how to get them there.
When you are in the presence of students, as you guide them down this path, what type of taxi driver are you?  Are you the one that grunts and goes about your day without any passion and enthusiasm? Or, are you the driver that is going to ENSURE that each student has a great journey, feels important, enjoys the moment, and goes on a ride that they will remember for the rest of their lives?
I suggest you try the second option. Make this decision every morning. Put it into practice with family members, students, coworkers, and strangers. Not only will your days be more enjoyable, but you will likely impact other people and the world more than you could ever imagine.
At ISTE, ironically, I learned that It doesn't matter if you have the latest and greatest technology, software, or gadgets, if you fail to help students learn, feel important, become inspired, and reach their potential. Technology is only a tool. It is not the cure for education's issues. It is still, and will always be, up to the teacher to make the difference.  Choose to be the "guide by their side".  They need you!
I almost left Philadelphia without learning a damn thing about the culture of Philadelphia, but someone rescued me. Don’t let your students leave your classroom without learning about life, living, and the culture of your classroom.  Make it your goal to make each student feel special, help them get to where they need to go, and inspire them to tell stories about where they just came from once they get there.


  1. Just let you know that, where you can hire a first class writer, who likes to be sure that everything is all right.

  2. I love this post! Thank you for sharing it; it is inspiring to me. I love that taxi driver! Thank you! My first day of Genius Hour is tomorrow, and I can't wait!

  3. Thank you, Amy! That taxi driver was great.

    Genius Hour is AWESOME! Let me know if there is anything I can help with.

  4. Oliver this was simply awesome. What a lovely way to weave a story through a real life experience. Hats off to you.

  5. Oliver this was simply awesome. What a lovely way to weave a story through a real life experience. Hats off to you.

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