How to Create a Learning Cooperative, Part 2

May 3rd, 2011 by Dionna | Leave a comment
Posted in Eclectic Learning

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What is a learning cooperative? It is a group of families who share responsibilities in order to provide a variety of educational opportunities. Learning cooperatives (“co-ops”) can be tailored to meet the needs of any group. But what questions should you ask when forming a co-op? And how do they function from session to session? This series of posts will help your group generate discussions about what you’d like your learning cooperative to look like. In part 1 I looked at general options to consider when forming your learning cooperative. Today I will discuss the small details that can help your co-op run smoothly. And in part 3 I will give you three examples of real learning cooperatives.

Once you have decided on the general details of your co-op, it’s time to look at the more specific details that can help your co-op run smoothly.

Specific Details to Consider When Organizing Your Learning Cooperative

The following were all topics of conversations I have had with the parents and other volunteers involved in our learning cooperatives, and I have included a few notes of what has worked for us. Each co-op is unique, no answer to these questions will be “correct”; do what works for your group.

  1. Class Format/Structure: What kind of activity counts as a class? Think about whether play dates, field trips, or other activities will be defined as a “class.” Will we allow teachers to make money from classes, or can they only recover their own costs? Do we want minimum/maximum time limits for classes? Do class minimums/maximums include students’ family members? And what do family members do while students are in class?
    *The co-ops we are involved in specify that play dates do not count as classes. Classes must have some kind of “educational” or “purposeful” component; so anything from a spring egg hunt to a class on how magnets work qualify. For minimums/maximums, we sometimes have teachers who specify a minimum number of students and a maximum number of “attendees” (i.e., for space considerations if the class will be in their house – attendees are both students and non-student family members).
  2. No Show/Cancellation Policy: How will we deal with students who are “no shows” or who cancel for classes in advance? Do we guarantee payment for teachers up front? Do we require teachers to return payments, or do we leave it up to the teachers? Do we want a written policy that sets a limit on “no shows” or cancellations? Who is in charge of talking to students/parents about no shows/cancellations? What amount of time before a class occurs is a cancellation (acceptable)?
    *Our co-ops have found that requiring fees up front helps teachers fund supplies before classes and keeps the number of no-shows down. We also leave it up to individual teachers as to whether they refund student fees if they cancel in advance – if the teacher has had to pay for supplies they can’t return, they are not required to refund the fees. If they can return the supplies or use them for their own family, we encourage the teacher to offer a refund for a timely cancellation.
  3. Class Change/Reschedule Policy: Do we want to have a written policy on what teachers should do when they need to change or reschedule classes? How will students be reimbursed if they cannot attend the rescheduled class?
    *We encourage our teachers to offer rain dates for classes that are more likely to be affected by weather, etc. – students are expected to be available for both dates (in other words, if the teacher has to reschedule to a rain date because of weather, then no refunds are required for students who cannot attend the known rain date).
  4. Illness Policy: Do we want to have a written policy that advises parents when to keep sick children at home? How sick is “too” sick for children to attend co-op classes?
  5. Liability: Do we need to worry about liability? If the co-op is at one set location, does the building/organization want us to sign a waiver? Do we need to have students sign waivers?
  6. Privacy: How can we ensure our students’ privacy? Should we make our forum/group documents/photo accounts/etc. accessible by only members? Should we place restrictions on how members can share pictures taken at co-op events?
    *We don’t have a written rule in our co-ops for pictures, but most parents ask around before taking pictures out of common courtesy. Our online forums are members only – non-users cannot read or submit posts.
  7. How will students submit classes?: What process will we use for students to submit their classes? Do we want to have them send class details to volunteers to sort/add? Submit a webform? Add classes directly to a calendar? What will we do if classes conflict (i.e., if there is more than one class scheduled for the same time slot)? What details do teachers need to include for their classes?
    *We’ve tried all three of the mentioned submission methods – the easiest for the co-op volunteers is to require students to add their classes directly to a shared (private) Google Calendar we set up; they also fill out a Google form so that we can easily compile and distribute teacher information. We do have one volunteer who goes through the classes on the calendar to make sure all required details have been included.
    *We require teachers to include: 1) Who – appropriate age range for class, student and/or attendee minimum/maximums, the teacher’s name, phone number, and email address; 2) What – class description, fees; 3) When – date and rain dates (if applicable); 4) Where – address of the class; and any other pertinent information.
  8. How will students enroll in classes?: What process will we use to have students enroll for classes? Do we have them send choices to volunteers? Submit a webform? If classes exceed maximums, how will we decide which students to drop?
    *We use a Google webform – a volunteer compiles class information and adds each class as a “checkbox” on the form. Students check those classes they wish to enroll in. We also include a drop-down menu at the end for students’ first, second, and third choices – all classes with maximums are included. If classes exceed their maximums, we first ask teachers if they’d consider increasing the maximum or offering a second class. If the teacher cannot, then we cut students based on their top choices.
  9. How will students pay for classes?: Will students pay teachers directly, or will they send it to a volunteer who will then pay fees out to teachers? What forms of payment will we accept (Paypal, cash, checks, etc.)?
    *We have students pay a co-op volunteer before the co-op quarter begins, and we use Paypal exclusively. Once payments are in, the volunteer sorts the payments and Paypals the appropriate amount to each teacher.
  10. Grace Periods: When will our deadlines be for submitting classes, enrolling, paying fees, etc.? What will we do if a student/parent misses the deadline?
    *We have hard deadlines for class submission, enrollment, and fee payment, and we ask students to honor those deadlines for the convenience of our volunteers.

What specific details have been issues for your learning co-op? What things do you wish you had discussed before your co-op started?

If there is interest in seeing examples of and learning how to create the Google forms we use for class submission and enrollment, please let me know and I will create a separate post. I am also happy to share examples of our “Co-op Guidelines” (which includes an illness policy, etc.), if anyone wants to see it.

Photo Credit: schleicher

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