Book Review: Bringing Innovation to School @SuzieBoss @SolutionTree

There has been an explosion of interest in and writing about innovation. By no means have I read all of the latest works on innovation, but I have read quite a bit – books and articles by Tony Wagner, Clayton Christensen, Steven Johnson, Tom Kelley, and Peter Drucker. Most recently, I have completed my first round of studying the book Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World, written by Suzie Boss and published by Solution Tree. For those who subscribe to “seeing is believing” and respect storytelling as a vivid means for seeing more clearly how we might innovate schools and prepare our next generation of innovators (Boss, 1), this is a #MustRead.

From the very first line of the introduction, Boss shows us innovation in schooling by telling us real stories. The first tale begins in Bertie County, North Carolina, with Emily Pilloton’s elective-course project called Studio H – “a hand’s on immersion in the design and build process with an emphasis on local problem solving” (1).  Having seen Pilloton’s TED talk, “Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change,” I was immediately warmed and invited in by Boss’s initial fuel and kindling for the book. I knew that Boss was committed to presenting high-quality examples, and I wanted to listen to and engage in more of Boss’s storytelling.

Whereas many books primarily present summarized theory and garnish the conceptual with brief examples pushed to sidebars, Boss treats the real-life stories as the main dishes, and she peppers the well-told tales with summarizing remarks and connections to big-picture innovation strategies. In some ways, Boss flipped the typical book, much like all kinds of educators talk of flipping the classroom. I loved this approach and methodology. Many of her stories involved educators and schools that I follow closely through blogs, Twitter, and the news. Some of her stories involved educational leaders that I have come to regard as friends. A number of her stories were brand new to me. All of her stories – and there are many of them – taught me things I did not yet know, filled in gaps about things I had wondered, and inspired in me an even deeper desire to investigate more robustly and learn more. Boss’s book strikes me as one of those rare finds that I know I will pick up time and time again to find a particular story as I connect its dots to another case I am working on, to review my notes and highlighting as I am making my own meaning about innovation in schools, and to return to a dog-eared page as I am ready to explore in more detail the robust set of resources that Boss accumulated in one place.

In the curation of her book, Boss organized the learning arc in a wonderful manner. “Part I: Setting the Stage,” creates a clear understanding of innovation and makes a compelling case for the critical nature of marrying education and innovation. Throughout “Part II: Building a New Idea Factory,” Boss weaves together her case studies – fabulous stories that balance ideal amounts of individual length and collective insightfulness. She wows the reader with what’s already being done, as well as with what’s possible, in regards to creating space for students to be immersed in and empowered by motivating, exciting work that honors their capacity to make a difference now and grow into the knowers and doers that our world demands. And Suzie Boss means to disrupt our own complacency. As an advanced organizer, she wrote in the section intro, “As we take a closer look at these schools and classrooms in the following case studies, put on your own critical lenses and consider: Which ideas are you ready to borrow now? What seems possible longer term? What feels out of reach in your current situation (and why)? Each case study ends with practical suggestions for how to get started” (51). This is meant to be a book of action. It’s a destination and travel book with images and narratives that make one want to venture out and arrive posthaste. What’s more, “Interspersed with these examples are five Strategy Spotlights to further expand your innovation toolkit” (51). Not only does Boss inspire us to go and do, but she also provides parts of the map to get to those places – enough pieces to help us feel we’ve already started and well on our way. In “Part III: Moving from Thinking to Doing,” Boss reiterates even more directly the importance of sharing ideas and leveraging networks for innovation progress. She also details eight action steps for impacting systems-level innovation. This third of the three sections is the shortest and took me the longest to read – I had trouble deciding what not to highlight, as it was all underlining-worthy.

At the end, Boss provides three appendixes, too: A) additional resources for design thinking, digital gaming, innovation and invention, project-based learning, and social innovation; B) an innovation rubric; and C) a discussion guide that could facilitate endless, powerful reflections and planning for motivated groups of administrators, faculty, parents, and/or students.

In Gary Hamel’s great new book, What Matters Now, he writes, “We owe our existence to innovation. We owe our prosperity to innovation… We owe our happiness to innovation… We owe our future to innovation… Innovation isn’t a fad—it’s the real deal, the only deal. Our future no less than our past depends on innovation.” And in Suzie Boss’s Bringing Innovation to School, she relays a rich repertoire of stories of how we might pay our indebtedness to innovation by investing in it more purposefully and pervasively in our educational system – for our dear children.

P.S. You can also read Suzie Boss’s work on blog sites for Edutopia, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Huffington Post. I highly recommend her postings. She tweets to @SuzieBoss.

Bo Adams (@boadams1) serves as Director of Educational Innovation at Unboundary, a transformation-design and strategic studio in Atlanta, GA.

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Boss, Suzie. Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World. Bloomington: Solution Tree, 2012. Print.

This review originally appeared on It’s About Learning.

About boadams1

Learner. Husband. Dad. Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, GA. Have worked in transformation design, educational innovation, and school leadership for 20+ years.
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