Pollinating The System

Erik De Haan speaks of the coach as a vessel of hope. Like the wise shamans of old an external coach moves from place to place with very little but the time and space to listen, acknowledge and be curious. Coaching has such a spectrum from the pure reflection to the sharp-eyed challenger to the scaffolder or summariser.

But there is an aspect of coaching that I think we sometimes miss – that of the pollinator. Like a worker bee, my work takes me from school to school and gives me a unique view and insight into each system and organisation. Through sitting with people at every level of these organisations I get a bespoke view. As Jordan Peterson says in his most recent book, 12 rules for life ‘Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t’.

And so, the coaching process is symbiotic. My clients gain a time and space to think, scaffolded through this. I learn and see the skill set needed to teach and prompt learning. I hear the anxieties, fragilities and pressures of the system. I see the links between initiative, team meeting or CPD and the reaction, pro-action, confusion, clarity or inertia that they prompt.

With each coaching conversation I pop something new into my bag. Sometimes it is tangible; how a deputy head affects change through a whole school initiative; how a year one teacher soothes and leads her challenging Teaching Assistant. Sometimes it is intangible, adding to the sense and glue of the school and wider education system.

It has taken me a long time as a coach to become cognisant of this pollinator role and harness this collection of nectar, leaning into its collaborative value.

As coach my role is to frame my client’s thinking, not to influence or tell but to allow access to their inner life, giving time and space to explore what is arising for them. However, I also know that to hold back from sharing similar or contrasting themes that I have heard echoed elsewhere is to ignore an important aspect of a coach’s role.

I am not talking about breaking confidentiality here, but instead a sharing of practice and ideas from other places when appropriate. Not looking to solve client’s dilemmas but instead, once they have come to their own solution, being able to share the knowledge I carry of other schools and organisations to build on, challenge and aid their solutions.

To return to the pollination analogy, if schools are like flowers, they aren’t great at cross pollination. A whole network exists of Multi Academy Trusts, hubs, conferences, networks and virtual spaces to try to link teachers, ideas, experiences.

These are often time consuming, rigid, personality driven, noisy and scattered.

An experienced coach provides more direct pollination linked to the very thing the client is wanting to explore. As coaches we can often concentrate too hard on the nectar as we busily bee around and forget the pollen we have dusted all over us. We have a unique insight into the system and wisdom we accrue along the way.

To enable rich development of our clients, we should feel free to share this pollen, not in an assimilated or ideological form but more as a dusting when needed to move them forward in the space they are in at that present moment.