Kelly Page

Creator of Bennett Live

Kelly Page has a PhD in Psychology of Web (Hypermedia) Knowledge and an obsession with social storytelling and human development. Dr. Page is the Director of Bennett Labs at Bennett Day School, the creator of Bennett Live, and is the former Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA).

Committed to developing ethical, entrepreneurial and scientific thinking and creating truly social cultures, leaders and learning experiences, Kelly has over 25 years’ experience working at the intersection of social innovation, social design and the learning of social digital mediated experiences for start-ups, schools and universities, and Fortune 500 companies.

During the global pandemic and school campus closures, Kelly led the development of the digital and home learning offering, Bennett Live. Bennett Live is media and educational programming serving to ignite project-based learning and creativity for children, youth and families everywhere. Throughout 2020, Bennett Live reached some one million families through social media, and in 2021 became available in over 149 countries for both iOS and Android mobile devices.

Kelly’s work has been published in leading peer-reviewed academic education, technology and business journals, as well as featured in The New York Times, Fast Company, Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, NBC, Chicago Tribune, nominated for Edison Innovation Award, and received awards from the FWD Collective, and Best in British Digital (BIMA). She has also been the recipient of two higher education institutional excellence in teaching awards.

Kelly believes that nurturing social leadership, and social design thinking in our schools, academies and workplaces is the key to creating truly social and happier places to live, work and learn.

Where did the idea for Bennet Live come from?

Bennett Live was inspired by the wonder-filled work of our teachers at Bennett Day School. At the beginning of school closures in February 2020, we had the opportunity to learn from and observe how our teachers were adapting our project-based learning curriculum from being delivered face to face and on-campus to being delivered remotely for our enrolled families at home.

We wanted to support and serve as many families as we could, no matter the location or school they were enrolled in. We worked with two of our founding teachers on the first two series of Bennett Live, who were working at home in Western Illinois and Colorado. We considered ‘how might we deliver project-based learning experiences which ignite creativity to families everywhere and in an asynchronous way via social media?’ Together, we developed ‘Creative Play with Mrs. Cunningham’ and ‘Exploring with Mr. Reynolds.’

We wanted to give families the flexibility they needed to watch and use Bennett Live at times that suited them, and also our team the flexibility in when and how we produced and delivered each episode. It was popular with families, so we expanded and collaborated with some 30+ teachers, designers, and artists to produce even more Bennett Live episodes across different areas of interest. From Visual Storytelling, Creative Movement, Exploring Chicago Architecture, Uncovering Design, to Imagaintiative Play, in six months we produced over 240 episodes of project-based learning content for children and families everywhere.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

In the world of the ever-present screen-time and working from home, to be most productive I became very intentional with how I scheduled my screen time. In the morning, I focus on creative and design work. I may be designing new learning experiences for educators, reviewing newly created Bennett Live episodes from our contributors or partners, reviewing home learning resources, or working on creative copy to reach parents and caregivers. In the afternoons, I try to schedule most of my meetings with partners, my team, and teachers interested in creating inspiring content and resources for families or coaching teachers in their own development.

During the pandemic, I found if I wasn’t intentional about when I scheduled calls and meetings, I could be on Zoom or editing videos from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and sometimes later into the night. While long days of meetings are at times necessary, leading innovation and product development work is very creatively intensive work, as well as strategic, and requires a different focus and energy. Being intentional when I scheduled creative and strategy time versus social time for collaboration has really elevated my own productivity, as well as my team’s.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I listen to what matters to people, to their stories, be it teachers, designers, artists, or business people. I then ideate with them to create a way for the central idea in their story to be shared with the world, and the team needed to make it happen. Being intentional and thoughtful in this, and developing trust, is very important. An idea can take multiple forms, requires different resources, and matters to multiple groups of people. Yet, sometimes you also have to work quickly and be comfortable if mistakes happen.

For example, bringing the idea for Bennett Live to life in ten days during a global pandemic facing school closures and remote work, all without a media production team required me to really focus on the vision. In addition, I had to troubleshoot quickly, get my hands into the execution, support and coach my team, and set-up processes to document what we were creating so we could learn along the way and replicate it easily. I also had to be comfortable always living in the feeling of “How might we …?” We didn’t have all the answers and were delivering content to the world only a few days after each episode was produced. So I had to be flexible in my expectations and take some risks.

My focus especially was on supporting the Bennett Live team of incredible teachers and contributors in whatever they needed to create and deliver. Sometimes being their creative partner, a coach, and sometimes just a friend on the screen. Believing in a teacher or colleague’s possibilities and listening to how they are doing personally, goes a long way in bringing ideas to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The design and impact of project-based learning (PBL) in models of learning and school design and how differently schools consider and implement it. It is a growing trend that excites me. PBL is a learning approach that is learning-centered and curriculum emergent. In this, all learners — children, youth, adults — involved in the project, help to design and complete it involving partners and experts, research, developing critical, analytical, and social literacies. The most rewarding forms are also in some way connected to real-world and authentic experiences and ideas. In some schools, they use internships and entrepreneurship to foster project-based learning, in others, it will emerge within subject disciplines, like the sciences, game-based learning, digital and maker cultures, while in other schools, like Bennett Day School or High Tech High, it’s fostered across the school.

It was this learning approach that inspired the creation of Bennett Live. Science has always told us that the culture and environment at home have a significant impact on a child or adult’s learning and success in school, college, and the workplace. This past year, we’ve not only been able to truly learn with families, see into their homes, and also partner with parents and caregivers more than ever, but we’ve been learning what children, youth, and families need at home. We created Bennett Live with the idea that children and families everywhere can learn through projects, creating, making, and doing at home, as well as at school.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Valuing multiple lenses and getting a team around an idea has made me productive as an entrepreneur. I have developed the skill of being able to think and work creatively, strategically, and relationally with different people, as well as working with multiple forms of media and data. This has helped me to work across multiple teams and projects. In Bennett Labs at Bennett Day School, we develop multiple creations, from mobile apps to games, video episodes, and learning guides to services, like professional development experiences for teachers. Every day we can be working on a different project, idea, or creation.

This mindset has also helped me to consider who I need at the table to launch an idea into the world. While there may be a person or a couple of people who are good at generating ideas, it takes a team to truly take an idea from a project stage, through development and to launch it as a creation or a new service in the world.

Learning how to support teams, as well as to develop the individuals within a team, is an important practice I work on being better at every day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Create with others more and more often. There is magic in creating and making, yet such joy when we share that making and creating with others. Be it painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, performing arts, crafts, weaving, cooking. Whatever the practice, collaborate with others and experience the joy and conversation from creating something truly wonder-filled with others.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

On this side of the world, that Vegemite tastes good.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Learning how to support and grow others is what I’d recommend all leaders and managers do. The world of the entrepreneur is often painted as this lone individual starting and growing a company, when in fact, successful entrepreneurs commit to learning how to develop and support their people and partners to be their best self and their teams to work collaboratively. This takes much personal-self work, letting go of your ideas after you share them, as well as being at the center of the work.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being focused and listening to my team and the educators and partners we collaborate with is one very important practice that has helped me grow and develop Bennett Labs and Bennett Live — especially during a global pandemic and school closures. Alexander Graham Bell is quoted as saying “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” His words resonate with me, as it takes time in education and mission-driven work to develop new programs, products and to share ideas in the world.

It is important during this creative time to focus and develop the idea over time and to be disciplined to maintain that focus, yet build evidence of impact. Learning is a creative, social, and emotional act, built on relationships and sharing, and building them takes time. Deciding on a course of action, developing the relationships over time, and being focused on them is what builds a good foundation for growth and sustainability in any business. There are no one-hit-wonders or get-rich or make-impact quick schemes in education, learning takes time and focus.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

To me, there are only learnings when things are working or not working out and when something is not working, you pivot and adapt. For example, while working on a new mobile application a number of years ago, and while a great idea and concept, and the development team did an excellent job to design and develop the mobile experience, and the business team secured meetings with potential partners, we were too early to the market by about 10-15 years, if not more. The change in behavior needed and the data sharing risk was too high for both business partners and users to embrace the idea.

To overcome it, we pivoted the idea, breaking it up into stages of risk. For example, what data were consumers already sharing willingly and a company storing today, to what data were they not? We built a timeline and also different groups of users based on risk as well as the business partners we needed on board to be successful.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

To truly advance humankind, we need to have access to the knowledge being created in our academic and scientific communities. In these worlds, there are millions of scientific studies and articles which many everyday people and organizations do not have access to. Most have 1 or 2 top-level findings or insights that could potentially help people, and or impact entire businesses or industries. I’d love to see a service developed in which the abstracts (which are publicly available) and the top-level insights across all publications are summarised and freely available, with links to the scientists behind the ideas to facilitate collaboration and/or commercialization of the ideas can occur. This I believe will truly move the needle on many social, scientific or business ideas or issues impacting the world.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Snowboarding lessons. I’ve skied most of my life, yet have always admired the art and science of snowboarding. I invested in lessons this year to learn the basics, as well as the physics, of snowboarding. The feeling of gliding across a mountain, of riding through fresh powder, or carving out the mountain is one difficult to explain, yet incredibly rewarding.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Evernote helps me to be incredibly productive. I work across web and digital systems and with Evernote, I can capture screenshots, clip web pages, record meetings, link google documents, and more. It makes it incredibly effective for me to document my and the team’s work processes as we are developing them for a new program, product, or service. I can also use it across devices.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Love, by Leo Buscaglia. This book is about love. What it is and what it isn’t. Among many other lessons of the heart, Professor Leo Buscaglia reminds us: Love is open arms. If you close your arms from love, you will find that you are left holding only yourself. In business and innovation, one needs to live within a growth and open mindset in order to love yourself, your ideas, your purpose, as well as to foster a culture of love in your teams. To do this, it is essential to really dig into your own meaning and interpretation of love, living what you love, and being loving.

What is your favorite quote?

“If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I believe it comes from a Tom Hanks movie, yet my father always says it to me when I’m facing a challenge or working through something.

Key Learnings:

  •  Project-based learning can ignite creativity and learning, at home, as well as at school.
  •  Bennett Live was inspired and created by teachers, artists, and designers for children and families everywhere, to make, create and do projects at home.
  •  In the world of the ever-present screen-time and working from home, to be most productive be very intentional with how you use your screen time.
  •  Value multiple lenses and getting a team around an idea to effectively bring it to life.
  •  Being focused is an important practice for the launch and growth of an idea in the world.
  •  Understanding your own meaning of love is critical to be a successful entrepreneur and innovator in any industry, yet especially in mission-driven industries like education.