For UpSchool Entrepreneurship Educators of the Year, Karyn Murray and Liesl Woods, 2020 has been a year of turning challenges into opportunities. They’ve transformed how they implement entrepreneurship in their classroom, incorporating new elements and taking their program online, and have also supported a group of their students to take out the 2020 Upschool Pitch Competition.

For Year 9 students at Strathcona Girls Grammar in Melbourne, things in the classroom are always a little different. They learn together on the school’s separate Tay Creggan campus, and take part in the bespoke TC Envision Program, which teaches important life-ready skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication and resilience.

‘Having the girls at a stand-alone campus has given us opportunities to shape programs which might not fit into an old-fashioned, traditional curriculum,’ Karyn Murray, Head of Tay Creggan, says.

‘We’ve had several iterations of the program focusing on using a range of skills, and in 2018 started thinking about how we could incorporate entrepreneurial thinking into the classroom.’

Enter, UpSchool. A professional development program for teachers, UpSchool gives educators the skills, experience and confidence to teach entrepreneurship in their own classrooms.

‘For me I could see how UpSchool and the way we were learning to teach entrepreneurship could fit into what we already had, and also elevate our program by giving it a strong framework,’ Karyn says.

‘I participated in the very first cohort of UpSchool, and at the end of 2019 two more staff went through the program, which gave us that shared understanding and a bit of a critical mass to move on.’

With learnings from UpSchool under their belts, Karyn and Year 9 teacher Liesl Woods set about transforming the curriculum, looking at the program as a year-long journey with a distinctly Melbourne flavour.

‘Because the campus is so close to the city, we really wanted to involve the community in our program, and we’ve been lucky enough to have the League of Extraordinary Women come on as a partner to be mentors for the students,’ Liesl says.

‘They’re an incredible group of really strong women who have built their own companies, and who have real stores to tell our girls.’

‘The stories aren’t always rosy, but they have some really life-changing lessons which are so valuable for our girls to hear.’

Karyn and Liesl also focused on making the curriculum a bit more modern, leaning on the 4Cs of 21st Century skills – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

‘Each term we thought about focusing heavily on one of those things,’ Liesl says.

‘Everything which has happened with COVID has meant we’ve had to shift our timelines a bit to suit the online experience, but I think in a lot of ways it’s probably enabled us to push the program through far more rapidly than we would have done if we were on site.’

The students started off the year getting to know themselves and completing team building work, before focusing on developing skills relevant to building a business, such as design, packaging and presentation.

‘A lot of the work was independent, which was really important for helping the girls become confident with those skills,’ Karyn says.

With the base work completed, the students turned their attention to their burgeoning businesses, forming their companies and creating their business plan.

‘We used a model really similar to what we had done at UpSchool,’ Liesl says.

‘We took them through a detailed process, from problem identification, customer personas, customer discovery and the business model canvas.’

The conundrum of COVID has thrown a few spanners in the works, but Liesl, Karyn and their students were determined to turn challenge into opportunity.

‘While we would normally host a face-to-face market where the girls can sell their products to other students, the circumstances meant we had to find an online solution,’ Karyn says.

‘Luckily, we have a group of girls who are really into their digital tech, and they went about creating an online marketplace.’

Their product, Envision Marketplace, is a fully functioning online store, and they’ve even been charging the rest of their year group to use the website to sell their products! True businesswomen at heart, the group were recently crowned the winners of the 2020 UpSchool Pitch Competition.

For the other groups as well, moving things online has netted some challenges, but similarly, some great results.

‘There’ve been lots of pivots, changes of direction and tweaks for an online market, but we’ve ended up with lots of clever little products which can easily be sent in the mail,’ Liesl says.

‘The girls haven’t had many of their normal co-curricular activities going on, so this has been a really great thing for them to be doing.’

For Karyn, Liesl and the students there is much to take away from the program, not least some important life skills which will set the girls up well for the future.

‘One of the things which has been valuable for some groups is having to talk to them about failure – what it means and how we react to it,’ Liesl says.

‘Girls in particular tend not to take as many risks – we’re trying to destigmatise that, and this program has been a great way to get them to rethink what it means to fail.’

‘On the whole it’s been a really positive online experience for them, and it’s pushed us to develop the program more. It can only grow and improve from here, which is exciting.’

UpSchool Workshops  are practical professional development programs giving educators the skills, experience, and connections to facilitate the entrepreneurial development of their students, delivered at Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship. Learn more or enquire now.