Strathcona Girls Grammar has translated Wade Institute’s approach to entrepreneurship into its Year 9 classrooms. Karyn Murray, head of Strathcona’s Tay Creggan Year 9 campus (2019-2024), established the school’s Envision entrepreneurial program after completing Wade Institute’s UpSchool 3-Day Workshop professional development program in 2019. Envision is a core part of her students’ year, building important life skills by taking them on a journey where they launch and run a real-world business.

Why UpSchool?

Strathcona students were high academic achievers, but they had a strong thread of perfectionism running among them. Karyn and her colleagues saw entrepreneurship education as a way of unpicking it.

“Perfectionism can translate to a reluctance to take risks and a lack of assertiveness. While our students had lots of great ideas, they were unlikely to stand up for themselves in a mixed group, or with people they didn’t know. We really wanted to break down that ‘pleaser mentality’.”

Attending UpSchool professional development was a ‘lightbulb moment’.

“It was the practical learning that was particularly inspiring. I think hands-on learning is absolutely essential for teachers, and nothing compares to putting yourself in your students’ shoes. My group pitched a travel program. It gave me lots of ideas for how we could cherry pick parts of the UpSchool program and develop it to suit our school.”

UpSchool helped the Strathcona team scaffold the skills they wanted to build within their students onto an entrepreneurship program.

“We were starting from a blank canvas and UpSchool helped us build Envision. We developed a one-year journey where students learn important skills like critical thinking, collaboration and resilience through entrepreneurship. It lets them experience real-world failures and successes, and the importance of perseverance.”

Envision is an adapted version of the UpSchool Workshop, tailored to Strathcona students’ needs.

“We’ve taken a lot of learnings from UpSchool and tailored the steps to suit our lessons. For example, problem identification and competitor analysis comprise quite a bit of the program, but we might represent our customers artistically, using collages and artworks.”

Authentic learning

At its core, Strathcona’s Envision program is about teaching the next generation of women to back themselves – something Karyn believes to be essential.

“Envision is an authentic way to learn perseverance; to learn to keep going in the face of failure. Our two big phrases are ‘pivot, punt, persevere’ and ‘fail fast, fail often, go again’. That way of thinking has spread to all areas of campus life; our girls know they don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to have a go. Learning to think like an entrepreneur is building their resilience, along with their assertiveness and willingness to take risks.”

As their students develop and run their businesses, Strathcona teachers take a deliberately ‘hands-off’ approach, inspired by Wade Institute’s ‘learn-by-doing’ ethos.

“We resist the urge to intervene with our students’ businesses. While it’s tempting to jump in and ‘save them’, that doesn’t encourage authentic learning. As long as they can fulfil their brief, we let them run with it. Some of the students’ businesses make a lot of money and some don’t make much at all. But for almost all of them, the confidence-building is incredible.”

Over 450 Strathcona students have completed the program so far and launched some impressive businesses.

“One girl is still running her corporate biscuit business, stamping messages onto shortbread biscuits for employees. Another is selling her jewellery and tote bags into the USA, and the group that developed our online marketplace is now working on an ‘Etsy’ for young entrepreneurs.”

Envision is expanding to focus on social entrepreneurship and solving global problems.

“Our students will be using an entrepreneurial approach to address social problems like ocean plastics. This not only allows students to develop their skills, but gives them a platform to think about solving global issues they’re passionate about. It’s all about encouraging learning in an authentic way; I’m excited to see Envision evolve.”

UpSchool was one of the best professional development opportunities Karyn has had.

“I think that’s because it wasn’t just about the theory. Because we were learning-by-doing, we could quickly recognise what would work at our own particular schools. I’m so glad I did it, and I’m encouraging my staff to do it, too.”

Karyn Murray and her colleague Liesl Woods were Wade Institute’s UpSchool Entrepreneur Educators of the Year in 2020.