Making Democratic Education Work in the Workplace

Brian and Andrew went to Equal Exchange headquarters September 27 to facilitate a workshop about democratic education. This isn’t the first time we’ve worked with people from this great co-op, but it was the first time TESA has been involved in leading a workshop on these topics at Equal Exchange. And given how well it went, we hope it is the first of many such collaborations with the fantastic workers there!

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s a great definition of democratic education from Andrew: “Democratic education, also known as participatory education, is a collaborative form of education where all are valued as both teachers and learners. On a philosophical and pedagogical level, democratic education works to create a non-hierarchical method of learning, and in turn, acts to democratize knowledge and power.”

Esther West, a community sales representative at Equal Exchange, organized the workshop because she had worked with TESA before at another training. As she put it, “I had already seen how TESA was able to show how to combine producing effective outcomes with inclusionary practices, and I was excited to share this with my fellow worker-owners at Equal Exchange!”

The workshop was about providing participants with examples of other co-ops that utilize democratic and participatory education in the workplace. Participants talked about the pros and cons of democratic education and discussed, in pairs, small groups, and as a large group, ways Equal Exchange could use participatory practices.

Brian and Andrew hung large poster boards on the walls around the room with different questions or statements, such as “Does Equal Exchange utilize democratic education already?” and “What potential pitfalls do you see for trying to implement some of these participatory and democratic methods?”

Participants were from all levels within the organization, which allowed for communication across different areas and new perspectives on a variety of topics. TESA’s teaching method is very driven by participants—we don’t practice a top-down model, but instead try to generate deep conversation and learn with participants, filling in, as needed, with our knowledge on democratic and participatory practices.

“Andrew and Brian gave an amazing workshop in a quick 90-minute period,” said Esther. “They demonstrated what they were teaching about participatory education through the workshop style itself, which really helped in understanding the topic. We came out with ideas and energy to improve our co-operative business through participatory means. It meant a lot to learn tools we worker-owners can use to live out our vision for our co-op, both as business owners and members of the Equal Exchange community.”

All around, it was an inspiring day and we’re excited to work with Equal Exchange in the future!