Shaping Emerging Higher Ed Leaders

The coaches’ role in the Breakthrough Models Academy

By Karen Steckler, PCC, CPCC | Halo Partners LLC

Looking across the conference room at the Breakthrough Models Academy, I saw 40 emerging leaders comprised of administrators, faculty and CIOs from different educational institutions representing the US, Canada and Australia who were challenged by the same question: “what would be a breakthrough design for next generation learning models in higher education?” To think that in five days their ideas will become the kernels for innovative breakthroughs in higher education is almost unbelievable.

Participants heard from thought leaders on the challenges, opportunities and threats facing higher education today, which fueled their imagination of what a 21st century educational model can be. Ten teams were formed according to participants’ interests including competency-based education, pedagogy, business models and faculty development.

Their challenge? To design breakthroughs models in those areas over the course of the next five months.

Developing team agreements to guide the process


To facilitate ideation, teams were introduced to Design Thinking and Service Blueprinting. Our job as coaches was to support the teams through the ideation process and to help break away from the minutia of the “how” and keep the focus on “what’s the job to be done.”

We guided them through the process of developing team agreements, which enabled teams to build trust at an accelerated pace. The agreements highlighted the elements for creating a thriving working environment, including there are no bad questions or ideas, direct communication, listening to each other, using curiosity to name a few. 

The teams embraced the process and were able to build on each other’s ideas – resulting in amazing solutions. By the fifth day they were ready to present their best thinking. It was amazing to see that many of the elements in their team agreements were concepts they were including into their breakthrough projects—elements such as connection, empathy, inter/intrapersonal skills and creating community. Some presentations incorporated props, one presentation was like watching a movie trailer for a major motion picture, and some used improv, comedy and acting. Some concepts were so provocative they literally took your breath away!

What will the next phase look like?

The journey of NGLC’s second Breakthrough Models Academy cohort continues over the next five months and concludes at EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) conference in February 2015.  Over the next five months, our role as coaches is to help teams move the process forward by continuing to challenge assumptions, encourage creativity, help them pivot ideas through the lens of the “what’s the job to be done?” and hold them accountable. I am looking forward to see these ideas turn into realities and the privilege to work with each team them in the months that follow. 

I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful that our children and grandchildren, for generations to come, will benefit from what started as a seed for greening the landscape of ideas. 


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