The tech world is famous for famous for sharing trade secrets. In an industry fueled by patents and intellectual property, it’s remarkable to watch the openness, sharing, and volunteering that happens too: look at the open source movement, Wikipedia, civic hackathons, etc. A few years ago one of my favorite industry leaders pointed out in a blog post that the tech community isn’t the only group that celebrates the masters who give away their secrets:
How does a chef break big and become a household name? One of the best ways is to release a cookbook or have a big cooking show on TV.
Mario Batali, Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Rick Bayless, etc. You probably know these chefs better than you know the chef of one of your favorite restaurants down the street.
These chefs give away their recipes, their secrets. They say “This is how I do it and you can do it too. Don’t worry, it’s not hard, just follow along.”
The more they give, the better off they are. The more they open up, the better off they are. The more they let you inside their kitchen the better off they are. These chefs have built empires by making their knowledge available to the public. They are astute business people.
Let’s give it away for free
Next Friday my friend/ mentor/ colleague Keith will be visiting a competitor school to share some of the secrets of the S.T.E.A.M. program we started this year. Giving away trade secrets is supposed to be a scary thing, but I think it’s great. I want him to share with more competitor schools in the area, and then I want to scale it up: I wish our whole faculty could give away the “cookbooks” of what makes our classrooms so special.
Why? Because free is a new business model of its own and because I believe that we have an ace up our sleeves too: even if competitor schools learn our recipes and follow the instructions, they will never get our secret sauce.
The secret sauce
I smile whenever I read articles about student-centered education. This idea is sometimes presented as a new, progressive approach — but I see it as another opportunity for Quaker schools to assert themselves as long-time leaders. And in fact, I think owning student-centered education and everything it entails could be our secret sauce.
Yes, a student-centered paradigm is where education is headed. And yes, let’s go ahead and share with the world what that means to us. Because no: even if we tell our competitor schools exactly how we develop our student-centered classrooms, I don’t think that even a perfect recipe could allow other schools to do it better than we do. And I have math to prove it.
Numbers don’t lie
Meeting for Worship centers our week (literally: it’s on Wednesdays) and our School philosophy. Once per week the whole community shares 40 minutes of silence and stillness, listening for Truth through our hearts, our ears, and our Friends. I see this as a distinct advantage already: Meeting for Worship gives us a special kind of access to the reality of our students’ lives and offers a unique opportunity to build our student-centered classrooms around that.
But Meeting isn’t just about what some students may decide to stand up and share with the community; Meeting is about the Truth that we profess exists beyond words. Put another way: Meeting isn’t about talking or not talking, Meeting is about the Light that we believe exists in all of our students. So in fact our classrooms are not just centered around the students — our classrooms are centered around the Light that centers each individual student. The difference is an order of magnitude.
Already this places us ahead of the pack. But even if we can find a way to get that into the cookbook, there’s another dimension to our secret sauce as well: time. Keith has been teaching at my school for thirty-something years. So do the math: 40 minutes x 35 weeks x 30 years = 42,000 minutes of listening and tending to the Light in his students in Meeting for Worship. If we do the math for the rest of the faculty, I wouldn’t be surprised if the sum total would approach a million minutes.
We can give away our trade secrets, reap the benefits of doing so, and still stay at the head of the pack. Those numbers are hard to beat.