Dear Potential Trade School Organizer


This is an excerpt of a working document used from 2010-2013, written in 2010 by Caroline Woolard for Trade School New York. The full document is available here:



  • Trade School is a learning experiment where teachers barter with students.
  • We place equal value on big ideas, practical skills, and experiential knowledge.


  • Everyone has something to offer.
  • Trade School is not free—we believe in the power of non-monetary value.


  • Trade School runs on mutual respect.
  • We are motivated by integrity, not coercion.
  • We are organized without hierarchy.
  • We share power and information.
  • We are actively working to create safe spaces for people and ideas.
  • Our organization is always learning and evolving.

We are inspired by Mess Hall and the Principles of Cooperation.

What is Trade School?

Trade School is a non-traditional learning space that runs on barter. Anyone can teach 
a class. Students sign up 
by agreeing to meet 
the barter requests of teachers.

On the day of class, students and teachers gather in a space that is made available by Trade School organizers. In New York, we make our own furniture, cook food in the space, and serve tea to welcome people. Students give barter items to the teacher, and class begins.

Trade School celebrates hands-on knowledge and experience. It is a place to learn with other people who value practical wisdom, mutual aid, and the social nature of exchange.

Local Trade School chapters open whenever a group of volunteers decide to organize one collectively.

Students and Teachers

Finding teachers

Where can you find teachers? You probably already know people who are great storytellers, who give tours, who teach their children, or who are professors who want to share information in a new setting. They probably just need a little bit of encouragement to set up and teach a class. For the first few classes, you will probably have to invite people. Ask people who will open Trade School with excitement- people who can speak to a range of topics, demonstrate a range of approaches to learning (from workshops to tours), and/or who know a lot of people. The first few classes should spread the word, set the tone, and create a standard of rigor and generosity.

When we first opened Trade School, we spent the month before we opened asking people we knew if they wanted to teach. We invited a range of good story tellers and radical educators: a mushroom expert and forager who wrote the Audobon Field Guide (Gary Lincoff), a woman with an MBA and an MFA who taught “Business for Artists” (Amy Whitaker), a singing enthusiast (Laura Harris), a master composter (Amanda Matles), and an arts festival producer (Chloe Bass). These people each invited their friends to come to their class, and many of their students became teachers who then invited more friends to their class. This is how it spread- word of mouth, emails, and links to our website.

Selecting teachers

We do not select teachers or turn potential teachers away. We ask for proposals so that we know what people want to teach, but we accept 99% of teachers. If there are any issues with the proposal, we give feedback and work with teachers to improve the class. We want to give everyone a chance to share what they know.

For special events (like when/if we work with museums and places with big PR and large audiences), where we can only fit a few classes in one night and lots of people want to teach, we take proposals for and give priority to people who have put in a lot of time to make Trade School work. For example, we give teaching priority to people who have donated food or cooked for us, people who repeatedly taught amazing classes on our regular schedule, and to people who both share information as teachers and learn as students at Trade School.

Demographics If all of your friends are the same age, race, glass, sex, and sexualorientation, you should consider how this relates to your goals for your Trade School. For example, is Trade School really “open to everyone”? At Trade School NY, we are beginning to work with community-based organizations to develop a better program that isn’t only made by and for educated white creatives. We think Trade School will be better with a wider audience because our goal is to build a culture of mutual respect in NY, and respect can be built by appreciating differences, confronting oppression in the classroom, and learning from people who are not all the same.

What teachers ask for

Teachers might say “I don’t need anything” or “I don’t feel comfortable asking for anything” or “I just want money.” Encourage teachers to make a long list of things they buy or obscure things they need, and show them what other teachers have asked for (fresh produce, music suggestions, research tips, materials, drawings, etc.) for inspiration. If someone wants to take a class, but shows up at the last minute or can’t bring an object, let them help clean up the room or assist the organizers.

Students become teachers

At the end of each class, ask students to consider teaching a class. People might say “but I don’t know anything that anyone else wants to know.” Or, “I don’t have any skills.” If you ask them what they do for a job, what they like to do, or what their friends ask them to do, you will probably be able to help them see that there are a lot of skills/ideas/ experiences they have that you and others would like to learn about.

Student sign-ups

Students usually sign up for a class online by agreeing to bring something that their teacher requests. You can also work out a system where anyone can sign up for a class in the physical space- but remember to enter it online so you don’t overbook your classes!

Walk-in students

If people wander in or come without bringing anything, just welcome them and say “please help us clean up at the end of class.” Remember who they are and make sure they help at the end. If they want to work out an IOU with the teacher, that is nice too.

No-show students

We have found that 50% of people who agree to bring barter items actually show up. This is typical of events in general, but a sad statement about our culture of flakes. Hopefully, people will stop saying “I’ll be there” and then not show up. Until we can hold people accountable and people can learn to take better responsibility for themselves, make sure you allow DOUBLE the number of students to sign up for each class. For example, if a teacher says “I want 10 students,” leave 20 spots to be filled. If they all fill, we find that about 10 will actually show up. In the rare case that all 20 show up (about 1% of the time), you will have to deal with it.

Class time

In New York, we’ve found that classes should be 1.5 hours with .5 hours between classes, so that there’s enough room to ask questions, clean up, give barter items to the teacher, and hang out. If the class involves a craft like felting or book-making, leave 4-5 hours or require two classes. Most craftspeople who haven’t taught before forget how long it takes to get everyone at the same step. Craft classes should be smaller and longer to allow for one-on-one help. Most importantly, we encourage participatory formats: workshops, break-out groups, walks, and discussions.

Class topics

Classes can be on anything. We’ve had a cartoon-drawing class taught by a 10-year old, a foraging in the street class, a philosophy and plumbing class, and a class about squatting the condos. As long as the person has real-life experience with the topic, or can relate a theory to practice well, it’s a good fit. We try to get a balance of craft traditions and contemporary tactics, and to balance book-learning with hands-on tactical experience.

Who We Are

We are Or Zubalsky, Caroline Woolard, Louise Ma, and Rich Watts. We work on Trade School in New York with a bunch of other organizers, but we also want to see Trade School grow anywhere people are excited about it. We are the people who built this site, wrote this pdf, and will fix software bugs and answer emails about your local Trade School.

For more about us, please see:

Why did you get involved?

Louise Ma (front end design): I’m interested in an open forum where theoretical and technical investigations can co-exist, where low-brow and high-concept can cross-pollinate. I’m for an environment where people are brought together by the passionate interests they share with their peers.

Richard Watts (front-to-back-end design): I’m involved because I believe people teaching other people are people at their absolute best. I think barter provides for the type of subjective value that allows the exchange of knowledge to flourish unencumbered by the expectations and stress of money. The world will be a better place when everyone takes time out of their day to teach someone else something.

Caroline Woolard (people corresponding): I am involved because I want to encourage cooperation and discussion about value. Trade School demonstrates that value is subjective, and that people ARE interested in supporting one another. Where else will you find a teacher’s knowledge (the class) right next to the teacher’s wish list (the barter items)? Trade School is a small part of the solidarity economyeconomic practices that reinforce values of mutualism, cooperation, social justice, democracy, and ecological sustainability. I hope Trade School allows mutual respect to emerge between people. With mutual respect, anything is possible.

Or Zubalsky (computer engineering): I think my reasons changed over time. At first, I got involved because I was just excited to learn about this project. I thought this was a great idea and I wanted to know more about it and possibly take some part in. I thought (and still think) Trade School is a wonderful model for education which has the potential to be accessible to many different people. I like how simple it is. As I got more involved, I started becoming more interested in seeing how this model can work in different countries and communities. The idea of this happening makes me happy. Also, I have to say that I was never a part of a group like this, and it’s interesting to even just be in this environment.

How did it start?

It all started in late 2009 because three of the five co-founders of OurGoods (Louise Ma, Rich Watts, Caroline Woolard) were given an opportunity to work with GrandOpening, and we had a wild brainstorm session about many possible barter storefronts. We decided that “barter for instruction” had a lot of potential.

So, from February 25th to March 1st, 2010, we ran Trade School at GrandOpening in the Lower East Side. Over the course of 35 days, more than 800 people participated in 76 single session classes. Classes ran for 1, 2, or 3 hours and ranged from scrabble strategy to composting, from grant writing to ghost hunting. In exchange for instruction, teachers received everything from running shoes to mixed CDs, from letters to a stranger to cheddar cheese. We ran out of time slots for teachers to teach and classes filled up so quickly that we had to turn people away. This made us think, “we should keep doing this!” We opened again from February 1st through April 1st in 2011 in an empty school, paying rent with the support of charitable donations and running on donated time from 8-20 volunteers.

In 2012, Or Zubalsky said, “I want to help you make a system to share with anyone in the world.” Or spent over 2.5 months of full-time work writing the code for this software, Rich Watts and Louise Ma spent over a month designing and refining the front end, and Caroline Woolard spends 5-10 hours a week, year-round, answering emails and talking to excited organizers of potential Trade Schools. Though we are based in New York, we now we have Trade Schools in many parts of the United States (Los Angeles, Virginia, New Haven, New York) as well as across the globe (Milan, Singapore, London, Paris, and Gaudalajara so far).

How does OurGoods relate to Trade School? is a barter network for creative people. connects artists, designers, activists, and craftspeople to trade skills, spaces, and objects directly. Trade School is just one of many possible barter spaces for face to face interaction. What about a barter movie theater, a barter restaurant, or a barter clinic?

Trade School helps OurGoods because, in some ways, is just a directory of creative people who are ready to connect in real space to begin a barter negotiation. In-person meetings are incredibly important. For example, how do I know whether or not you are actually good at what you say you’re good at? I won’t know how I feel about you until we meet in person. Trade School is a way for members of OurGoods to meet people who are interested in barter. It’s a community of people who are open to alternative exchange where dialog and transaction MAY emerge, but where class instruction remains the focus.

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