Train-the-Trainers for cooperative developers and educators (workshop facilitation guide)

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This was originally the (slightly modified) workshop facilitation manual for the Cooperative Development Institute's "Train-the-Trainers" day-long workshop for a Cooperative Connecticut program. This program brought together 12 mentors and trainers to work with eight different cooperatives looking to get off the ground in primarily a rural and impovershed part of Connecticut. This was submitted to Cultivate.Coop by CDI.

You can feel free to use, adapt, and modify parts or the whole of this workshop.

Recommended/Assigned Reading

Main Article: Recommending reading on cooperatives and democratic education for the Train-the-Trainers workshop.

Introduction Activity: Collective Starting Points

Introduction: This is an interactive, engaging activity that can be used to create a common experience in newly formed groups. It also allows these groups to begin talking about their subjects – in this case, cooperative education/development and participatory education. In addition, this activity allows groups to visually establish what they know at the outset, teach each other what they know (a key cooperative education technique), and begin to feel comfortable discussing the subject matter with one another. Finally, by returning to this activity periodically, groups can visually track what they are learning and how their understanding of participatory education has evolved over time.

Synopsis: Before this activity begins, the facilitators put up a number of large easel sheets around a room. On these sheets are several open-ended questions relating to the participatory education and cooperative education/development. It is a good idea if some of these are more general while others are very specific. The participants walk around the room and write down their answers/reactions to these questions. They are also told that they should read the other participants' reactions. After this, the group comes back together to discuss their answers/reactions, any similarities, themes, differences, responses that stood out, how their answers and others' answers impacted their thoughts, and etc.


Put up the easel sheets with the below questions around the room. Each question should get its own easel sheet. Also put out dry-erase markers. You can print these questions onto 8.5” x 11” paper and paste them to the sheets, but each question should be big enough to read easily while standing a few feet from the wall.

  1. Who are the cooperatives you are going to be working with? What is your role in their efforts?
  2. What questions do you have about participatory/democratic education in cooperative development?
  3. How do your interests intersect with cooperative education and development?
  4. How do you make your workshops engaging, directly relevant to the needs/interests of the participants, and problem-based?
  5. What are cooperatives? Why are they important? What makes a co-op different from a traditional business?  
  6. How can you assess where co-op groups stand - in terms of their level of knowledge on co-ops, where they are in the process of starting a co-op, etc. - when beginning to work with them?
  7. How do you teach/facilitate co-op development effectively in tune with groups’ specific interests, needs, abilities, and what they’re trying to do? (I.e. start a co-op)
  8. What are differences between participatory education and typical educational approaches?

Introductions (Roughly 10 Minutes)

1) The facilitators should briefly introduce themselves, their background, why they are facilitating this workshop, and why they are a part of this program. Why do they think it’s an important effort?

This should take roughly a couple of minutes.

2) Go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves. Why are they here? What is their background? What are they hoping to get out of this workshop and what would they like to do with the information they gain? Also ask them: Why is this co-op education and development program important to you?

If possible, limit the length of the students’ responses so they don’t take up a significant chunk of time. Indicate that they should limit their answers to a minute or two. The class will be coming back to these questions, so folks shouldn’t be worried about jam packing all of their thoughts into these introductions.

Give this roughly 10 minutes.

Walk Around (Roughly 15 – 25 Minutes)

1) Ask the participants to approach the easel sheets around the room. Tell the participants that they should look over these questions and write down their reactions and answers on the sheets with the markers you provide. Also let them know that their answers to these questions will help guide discussions throughout this workshop.

Give the students fifteen - twenty minutes to do this.

2) Consider giving the participants encouragement to read over their peers’ reflections and talk about anything that strikes them as they walk around the room “answering” questions. By discussing their understandings, the participants will add a “buzz” to the room.

3) Before you finish this part of the exercise, if the participants haven't done so already, make sure they take a few minutes – 5 to 10 - to read over the answers that their peers wrote. When they are done, ask them to return to their seats.


Once the group is done writing their reflections and reading others, facilitate a discussion with them based on the questions and their responses. Here are some potential facilitation questions that you can use:

  • Can you identify any “themes” in the reflections/answers written by yourself and the other participants? Are their common ideas and answers? What are they?  
  • How does the group define cooperatives? What are the similarities and differences in your various answers? Was their a particular remark about cooperatives that struck you as interesting?
  • What did the group write about participatory (or popular/democratic) education? Why is it significant, especially when teaching about cooperatives?
  • What reactions did you all have towards integrating participatory education into cooperative education?
  • In what ways are cooperatives important to the group? How does this program intersect with your interests?
  • Are there any particular points or reflections written by another participant that stood out to you? Why?
  • Are there any agreements or disagreements present in the reflections? What are they?
  • What did this activity - the questions or their peers' reflections - cause you to think about? Why?
  • How can co-ops change communities?
  • Ask the group if they have any additional points or questions they want to raise based on this activity and discussion.

Give this discussion roughly 20 - 25 minutes.

Note: Remember that we will be returning to this activity at the end for a little bit. Remind the participants of this.

Before moving on, mention that you have set up an easel sheet with “Research Question” written on it. The class can use this anytime that someone brings up a question that is off topic (but should be explored), that you don't have time to cover, and/or that no one knows the answer to. You will collect these questions throughout the workshop, and come back to them at the end to distribute amongst the participants. They can do research after the workshop and then share their findings with the other participants.

Finally, ask the participants to think throughout the workshop about what in this workshop inspires them and what they would like to use in their own efforts; as well as what they would do differently in their own cooperative development and education efforts.


A) Cooperative Questions and Basics (30 Minutes)

Set up

1) Set up an easel sheet that is labeled “cooperative questions.” You may need two or more.

Before this Train-The-Trainers workshop, you should have also asked the co-op groups that the participants are working with what specific questions they have about cooperatives - what they are, how to start them, how to run them, unique challenges of co-ops, and so forth. These should be synthesized into a single sheet - potentially printed out to hand out for this workshop.


2) Explain to the participants that we are going to ask them to try to step into the shoes of the co-op groups we are going to be working with. Try to imagine what you know about them and consider: what are questions they might have about cooperatives? This can range from “what are co-ops” questions to how to participate in them, how to start them, and so on. A) As the groups share potential “questions,” keep track of these on an easel sheet in the front of the room.

Ask the groups if they have any last additions.

This should take 10 minutes.

3) You should now hand out the list of questions that you collected from the start-up co-op groups prior to this Train-the-Trainers. Ask the group to skim over these and identify questions from the co-op groups that they had not identified in the previous exercise. Put (some or all of) these questions on the same easel sheet.

Ask the groups: what does this tell them about the sort of cooperative issues that their co-ops are facing? Does it reveal something that they need to learn about in order to best serve these co-op organizations?

This should take 5 minutes.

4) Now that there is a broad list of cooperative questions specifically tailored to your situation, ask the participants to do two things:

A) Take a shot at addressing the questions they feel comfortable answering;

B) Ask people to bring up what questions/issues in the list that they feel they needed a better understanding of. Other participants as well as workshop facilitators may try to address these questions/issues. If they can't, throw them into the “research questions” to divvy up at the end of the workshop.

This should take 15 minutes.

5) Explain to the workshop participants that the purpose here isn't to answer every question about cooperatives, but to A) start imagining the questions and issues that may arise with their cooperative groups; as well as B) start to gain a better understanding of some of the basic and more advanced co-op issues that are specifically applicable to the groups they will be working with.

What makes a successful co-op? What makes an unsuccessful co-op? (35 - 45 minutes)

Set up:

Place two easel sheets, side by side. One should ask “what makes a successful co-op?” The other should ask “what makes an unsuccessful co-op?”


1) Tell the workshop participants that we are going to work on a group-brainstorming exercise in order to try to identify elements and characteristics of what makes a successful co-ops vs. what makes an unsuccessful co-op.

2) Ask for a volunteer to come up from the group to record contributions on the easel sheet for successful co-op features and another volunteer to record the features of unsuccessful co-ops. (They should also still participate in the group brainstorm exercise).

3) Now ask the participants to, one at a time, identify features, characteristics, and elements of successful and unsuccessful readings. They should build these lists by pulling from their readings, their experiences, and their general thoughts.

As they call out their characteristics, elements, and features the facilitators should make sure to ask participants to clarify their statements. These questions should include: “Why does that make a successful co-op?” as well as “what leads you to believe that - is it something from our readings, your experience, or something else?”

This should take 15 - 20 minutes.

4) Once the brainstorm list is finished, ask the group to address these lists by posing the following questions: Are there any points they feel are particularly significant? Why? Are there any points they take issue with or would like to offer a dissenting opinion on? Why? Can they speak to any of these points from experience (if they haven't already)? Do they know of real-world examples of these points?

This should take 10 - 15 minutes.

5) Thank the two volunteers and tell them that they can sit down with the rest of the group.

6) Now lead a short group discussion by posing the following questions to the participants: When working with your co-op groups, what are positive methods of letting them know that they are in trouble because they are displaying a specific characteristic of an unsuccessful co-op? How can you reaffirm a co-op group you are working with when they are displaying elements of a successful co-op to make sure that they continue to practice and build on this characteristic?

Record answers on easel sheets, promise to type up and send out later.

This should take 10 minutes.

C) What is the cooperative difference and experience? How do you work with the cooperative difference? (45 minutes)

1) Now arrange the participants into groups of four. Tell them that they are now going to start exploring the cooperative difference and experience. Hand each group an easel sheet or two and at least four markers.

2) In their pairs, ask groups to discuss with each other the following questions (you may need to print these out as a handout to give to the groups so they don’t forget):

  • What co-ops are you familiar with? What difference were/are they making in people’s lives and in their communities? Did they function well as businesses? Were there particular difficulties or challenges these co-ops faced?

3) Inform the groups that they should keep track of their discussion on easel sheets - what co-ops they discussed, the impact they made on lives/communities, if they functioned well as a business, particular challenges/difficulties, etc. - whatever information they discuss about the co-ops.

Make sure to tell the groups that they will be presenting their discussion - and the co-ops they covered - to the rest of the group using their easel sheet. Give the groups 15 minutes to do this.

4) Ask each group, one by one, to come to the front of the room and put their easel sheet on the wall and discuss their findings - the co-ops they knew that made a difference, how they functioned, its particular challenges and difficulties, etc. Each group should take a few minutes to do this. After the groups finish presenting, there should be a wall of real-life cooperative examples that are meaningful to the workshop participants.

This should take 10 minutes.

5) Now bring everyone back together and facilitate a whole group discussion. Inform the trainers and mentors that now that they’ve identified some of the key elements of the cooperative difference and experience, it’s important for their efforts to explore how to work with start-up and existing cooperatives differently given these unique attributes.

Ask the participants to discuss:

  • What are unique aspects of co-ops that are different from other organizations, and how will you address those differences in your work facilitating workshops or mentoring a co-op group?

At this point, you may want to work with the participants to identify aspects from the co-op organizations identified in the previous activity that are particular/unique to co-ops. Now pose to the participants:

  • Why is it important to work with your co-op organizations differently than you would other types of organizations (mainstream businesses, typical non-profits, “unofficial” collectives, etc.)?
  • In what ways will you work differently with your co-op groups than you would a typical organization?

Give this 15 minutes.


A) Facilitation Theory (45 min)

A) Facilitation Theory

1) (5 min) Get people settled in a large circle. Before this workshop, you should have asked people to come up with at least three discussion questions/points regarding participatory facilitation methods and democratic education based on their own ideas and the assigned readings. Ask for volunteers to facilitate portions of the next half hour. Select 3. Tell them they will take turns and each facilitate the discussion for 10 minutes. (If only 2 volunteer, they can each facilitate for 15 minutes.) (If you have a large group, you can also do this activity by splitting into two smaller groups).

2) (35 min) Each of the volunteers takes turns facilitating the discussion.

If discussion needs a boost, try these discussion questions:

1. Have you ever felt like you were in one of David Ellerman’s “Don’t” situations -- undermining autonomy by giving benevolent aid or overriding autonomy by engineering?

2. If a group seems to want you to take over or just tell them what to do, what techniques can you use to build their capacity for self-direction?

3. Which of Jane Vella’s 12 principles do you think is hardest to follow? Why is it important that it be followed (or is it?)?

4. If you recall your best learning experience, did it incorporate engaging your head, hands, and heart? Did it need to? Are other elements necessary for a great learning experience?

5. What do you see as the benefits of using participatory/democratic methods in teaching cooperators? What do you see as the drawbacks?

6a. Do you feel comfortable as a “trainer” or “mentor” putting yourself on an equal footing with the participating groups? Or does that feel unprofessional?

6b. Do you worry about your experience and expertise being respected? How can you bring your gifts without dominating the process?

7. What social dynamics have you encountered in groups that prevented the building of community? Have you seen those overcome?

8. Was all the talk of “liberation”, “social action”, and “transformation” in the readings exciting or distressing for you? Are there things that people in this society, or in northeastern CT, need to liberate themselves from? Will participating in cooperatives contribute to that liberation?

3) '(5 min) Thank the volunteer facilitators. Ask participants, round-robin style, to name anything they liked or disliked about the facilitation of the previous half-hour. Or, name what are good facilitation techniques or ideas that they’ve used that they didn’t see in the readings/want to emphasize from the readings. (If needed provide an example.) Write the observations on an easel sheet.

B) Facilitation and Group Problem Solving Methods

Tell the group that you are now going to be working on facilitating and addressing group problem and conflict solving that can arise in cooperative groups - which they may face in workshops they teach or with groups they are working one-on-one with..

1) Break people into small groups of three. Once in their groups, ask them to share one of two things:

A) A time when they were working in a group where there was a serious conflict that had a detrimental impact on their efforts and/or relationships. Maybe, for example, there was one set of folks in the group that was dominating the efforts, while there was another set that was suppressed, which caused a rift. They should then talk about what positive actions were taken to address or mitigate these problems. If in their situation there were no positive steps taken, they should instead talk about what possible actions could have been taken and how these would have been helpful.


B)  They should talk about a conflict that they’re worried about happening in a workshop they’re facilitating or with a co-op group they’re mentoring. After presenting this worry, they should then talk about how they might address that conflict or issue.

Give this 10 minutes.

2) This is a full group discussion - Once everyone is done discussing these various conflicts, they should talk about what struck them in the ways to address conflicts that were shared by the people they were speaking with. What was unique, what made them think, etc.

Give this 5 minutes.

3) Next, facilitate a rapid-fire scenario activity. Present the groups with a short scenario of a conflict/issue that could arise while they are working with groups in workshops or one-on-one situations. After each scenario is presented, the groups should take 3 – 5 minutes to respond to these scenarios. After each scenario, facilitate a go-around and ask the participants to provide highlights of their discussions of ways to address these potential issues. During these go arounds, allow people to (briefly) respond to each other. Take 2 - 5 minutes after each scenario discussion to do so. As individuals present them, record these highlights from the go-arounds on an easel sheet (the same easel sheet from the last activity) so they are visible for everyone (and tell groups that you will type these up and send them out so that they can have them for future reference).

Below are some potential “rapid fire scenarios.” You do not need to use all of them, you can pick and choose.

  1. “Equal wages for all?” International Poultry of Willimantic, aka “El Pollo Criollo”, started off with a firm policy that all its vested worker-owners would be compensated by the same hourly wage. But before too long, a contingent of extremely skilled workers complained that they were producing more deboned chicken than others; indeed, over twice as much per hour in some cases. Equal wages for all, they said, is unfair to us. Management replied, at first, that in a worker cooperative everyone should be treated equally. This, however, did not satisfy the complainants. What’s to be done? How could you work with this co-op to try to balance being equitable while addressing this divisive concern?
  2. “Silent Board members?” In the same cooperative, workers elected the majority of Board members, and of those so elected, most were lower income Latinas who had never served in any such capacity before. In addition, they all had previously worked in a conventional chicken processing plant, where questioning management was not readily tolerated. As a result, they rarely spoke up at Board meetings, and never openly questioned the (male, white, middle class) manager, even though they told the education coordinator privately, and correctly, that the manager was making very problematic decisions. How can this situation be transformed?
  3. “To Educate or to Produce?” It’s a common problem, particularly among cooperatives just getting started and those with low income members. The time spent educating workers about life in an enterprise they will own rarely can be compensated financially, and if that education occurs on the job, it will diminish the time spent in production or providing services, and thus the co-op’s revenues. In one case, a Brooklyn, NY cooperative, We Can Fix It, fell apart when (mostly male and low income members) refused to take a ten week cooperative education program, because they were jobless and needed to make income right away. Similarly, El Pollo Criollo’s worker owners balked at coming back to the plant for evening trainings, unless these were compensated. When working with your co-op groups, how can you best combine co-op education and co-op survival?
  4. “Deferred Decisions” You’re working with a co-op group and notice that a few of the members are constantly deferring decisions to a subgroup, claiming that group is more qualified, knowledgeable, etc. They say that these folks should be the ones responsible for making decisions for the co-op. How do you begin to bring everyone into taking equal responsibility for making decisions?
  5. “Accountability” You notice that a couple of members in a co-op group you’re working with are consistently agreeing to take on tasks but not fulfilling them, while others seem to be aggressively taking on more than their fair share and are becoming stressed about it. How can you begin to work with the group to ensure an equitable amount of work is taken on by individuals, and people follow through on their responsibilities?
  6. “Tempers Flare” A co-op group you’re working with begins to talk about how decisions should be made in the cooperative they are trying to found. This issue completely divides the group--tempers flare, accusations fly, and the whole venture looks to be in danger. What steps can you take to both repair relationships and address the question before the group?
  7. “To Be or Not To Be a Co-op” A co-op group you are working with expresses that they are no longer sure if they want to be a cooperative. They state that it seems too hard and they’re not confident that it’s the model they’re driven towards. What is your reaction? What steps do you take to address their concerns?

This should take 15 minutes.

4) Ask people to look over the final list. What stands out on it for them? What else – techniques, etc. - would they add?

This should take 5 - 10 minutes.

There are things we should add if not on there, such as:

  • Step up/step back technique (for getting voices from people not being heard, etc.)

Closing analysis and final logistics


1. Set up new easel sheets directly under the original easel sheets from the opening activity (“Walk-Around”). Label these sheets as “new thoughts.”   2. Set up a new easel sheet that is labeled “Remaining Questions” (or you can put this on a white/black board).

Evaluating What We've Learned (Roughly 20 - 35 minutes)

1. Remind the group that during the opening activity, they evaluated their knowledge and ideas about popular education, cooperatives, cooperative development, and the integration of the three. The purpose of this exercise was to help them explore and visually track their understandings and beliefs as they developed throughout the workshop. 2. Ask the group to approach the new easel sheets that are around the room (and under the original ones). Inform the participants that they should write down any new reflections, thoughts, and ideas in response to the prompt questions that have developed out of the class activities, readings, and discussions. Once again, it’s a good idea to encourage students to talk to one another about their answers throughout this exercise.

Give this about 10 minutes.

3. Before bringing the group back together, make sure they read over what their peers have written.

Give this about 5 minutes.

4. When the participants are done, bring them back together and lead a discussion based on the new answers. Here are some potential guiding questions:

  • Have people’s opinions, concepts, and ideas evolved or developed at all?
    • What has shaped these changed perspectives?
  • Did anyone write down something new that you find particularly interesting? Why?
  • Which reading, activity, discussion, and/or facilitation techniques have been the most useful for you and have had the greatest impact?
    • What specific methods are appealing to you to integrate into your facilitation (workshop or mentoring)?
  • In what ways do you now see connections between participatory/popular education and cooperative development?
  • Is there anything else of note you would like to share or discuss?

Give this about 10 – 20 minutes.

If the participants bring up any ideas or subjects that the workshop hasn’t focused on that they would like to, the facilitator might ask them to do some preliminary research on that issue and to share it with everyone else.

Remaining Questions (Roughly 25 - 30 minutes)

1. Ask the group - What remaining questions do you have about:

  • Cooperatives?
  • Cooperative development?
  • The Cooperative Connecticut program?
  • Participatory and popular education?
  • The groups you are working with?

2. Accumulate as many questions as you can before there is a lull. Write these down on a black/white board or easel sheet.

3. Choose a few of these questions to use to facilitate a discussion with the group. What do they think about them and what, as a facilitator, can you say about the questions? Divvy up the remaining questions on the research question sheet and ask people to look into them and provide information they find to the rest of the group. Provide and explain an avenue they can do this (a message board, email, etc.).

This should take 15 minutes.

4. Now pose to the group: what are ways that we could seek out the answers to these remaining questions you have now or that develop as the program continues? Write the group's suggestions down on the easel sheet (or black/white board)

  • If the group does not say these, make sure they know that: they can pose questions to their peers over the program list-serve; they can talk to peers during the workshops; and they can contact the program developers.

5. Ask the participants to contribute any final questions and put them on the easel sheet.

6. There will probably be a number of un-discussed/answered questions. Ask for volunteers to look up information on these questions and to share information, articles, and/or materials they find on these questions with the rest of the group over the list-serve.

Finally, thank the group for all of their hard work, tell them you know they will do great, and you are confident that it will be a great program! Hand out the actual workshop plan that we put together and tell them that we welcome their suggestions and critiques -- please look over it and see what you would use in your workshop, what you would do differently.

Share any remaining information and logistics that you need to go over.

This should take 10 - 15 minutes.

FINALLY:  Spend the last 20 - 30 minutes going over any logistics you have; explain methods for ongoing education, and so forth.


This workshop was originally designed in coordination with CDI by The Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA).