TESA Works with The Wellspring Cooperative to Create A Co-op Education Handbook

In early 2015, TESA worked with the Wellspring Collaborative to create a training handbook, full of participatory workshops and short activities, to be used with incoming worker-owners and for continuing education with existing worker-owners. The handbook included materials on topics as specific as Wellspring’s structure and style of governance and as broad as cooperative history and culture.

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Challenges faced

With help from a Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) Technical Assistance grant, Wellspring hired TESA to help them overhaul, improve, and expand their cooperative education and training handbook for new and existing worker-owners. Wellspring was already doing weekly education sessions with their worker-owners, yet with a new greenhouse co-op to be opening in addition to their existing upholstery co-op, they identified a need to improve their current curriculum and make it relevant to both new and existing worker-owners. Furthermore, they wanted to transform their existing materials so that their curriculum was for more participatory and democratic, as they were hoping to improve the cooperative culture and practices in their co-ops. Given that TESA has extensive experience in overhauling curriculum, especially with an eye towards cultivating a cooperative culture, this was a great fit.

How TESA helped

One of our real strengths at TESA is expanding and improving cooperative curriculum, especially with a focus on building out the cooperative culture in a co-op’s membership. Additionally, TESA has years of practice in developing curriculum for mixed literacy and English language learners, which were both needs for Wellspring. In the case of improving the cooperative culture, this was going to be doubly challenging, as the culture of cooperation had already shown to be an area that needed improvement at Wellspring, and each session could only be 30 minutes long given the availability of their participants. Generally speaking, our baseline for a workshop is 2-hours, and the more time you shave off of that, the more difficult it is to create participatory workshops. That being said, designing a series of 30 minute workshops posed an exciting challenge for TESA. Working with Emily, we were able to identify Wellspring’s learning goals, the major themes and topics to cover, and the types of activities that had and hadn’t worked in the past.

Initially, we aimed to create a series of more static and standalone workshops for each topic. But, after reviewing the major themes and topics and looking at how they would be translated for use with new and existing worker-owners, we decided to take more of a swiss army knife approach to the creation of the curriculum. So instead, we created a lesson plan framework for each of the major themes we identified, and then we created 5-6 short activities that could be rotated in and out of the lesson plan depending on the audience and their learning style. This methodology really allowed us at TESA to get creative, and pushed us to develop shorter, participatory activities that didn’t have as much space for discussion. Taking on this challenge was really rewarding for TESA, and we learned a lot in the process. In addition to creating new curriculum and activities for this project, we were also able to take some of our tried and true activities and experiment with shortening and condensing them, which will prove invaluable going forward.

What would you say to others about TESA?

Emily Kawano, co-director, Wellspring Collaborative, Springfield, MA:

TESA is absolutely terrific to work with. TESA helped us to develop cooperative training curriculum on a wide range of topics. I really appreciated their willingness to work in a collaborative fashion to meet our needs. They developed a menu of exercises that are creative, participatory and effective. It’s clear that TESA has a great depth of experience and expertise, coupled with good listening skills and sensitivity to the complexity of our training needs. In short, they were a real pleasure to work with. I highly recommend TESA to anyone who is interested developing great training materials.

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A note from TESA

There are few projects as rewarding as those that are immediately put into use, and the results of which will be increased access and skills for those striving for cooperative ownership. To that end, we were thrilled to work with Wellspring on this project. Working with Emily was also a real pleasure, as we were able to learn a lot from her, and collectively, develop a a unique and immediately usable handbook. For us at TESA, it is really exciting to know that the curriculum we created will be used to both improve an existing co-op as well as serve as the educational foundation for new co-ops.

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