CPD and Protecting People’s Pie Charts

By Nikki Sullivan

How far can teachers be expected to go one step further, ‘be even better’, or be part of the ‘professional culture’ that so many great schools want to adopt? Nikki Sullivan argues for a thoughtful approach…

“Humans first, professionals second”

“Humans first, professionals second” (Mary Myatt). This quotation, alongside “every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” (Dylan Wiliam), is probably the one I have heard most often throughout my career – and with good reason. As CPD lead, my role and my values link inseparably to these two pearls of wisdom – how do I ensure we are creating the conditions for professional growth whilst respecting the person and their ‘pie chart’?

People’s pie charts are only ever the same size. At different points in our lives, different sections take up more space. And putting staff first means putting people and all of their pie chart first.

As leaders we seek to nurture excitement around professional learning, underpinned by a moral imperative. In our school, we talk about “the Beckfoot buzz” and a determination to enable our professionals to thrive as “lifelong learners and reflective practitioners”. This determination, I believe, needs to come with a caveat, a health-warning, in order to ensure that we do not become overly occupied with supposed signals of engagement over true indications of impact and culture. It can be the seeking of these signals that can lead to circumstances where we lose sight of “humans first”.

CPD curriculum, cohesion and “opportunity costs”

To put people first, we have to recognise the never-ending nature of the job, and subsequently, the importance of staff’s entitlement to CPD, within directed time, which supports them in growing in their role. In order to do this, a CPD model needs to be cohesive, not only considering its content as a curriculum (Zoe and Mark Enser), but also considering which forms of CPD work in our setting – what our “rhythm of inputs” (Sarah Cottingham) will be. How can we ensure that CPD becomes ‘part of how we do it here’, as opposed to another plate to spin or ball to juggle?

Vitally, alongside an ever-ongoing consideration of workload, we also need to consider “opportunity cost” (Dylan Wiliam) – stopping doing things or doing them in “a different way that results in even greater benefit for your students”. Schools need leaders who not only do everything they can to minimise workload, but also look to maximise impact from the strongest inputs. Here is where we distinguish between what makes up our core CPD model, and what is part of our extra-curricular ‘opt-in’ offer, accepting that there is not enough time for everything.

Bespoke inside and outside the core model

To enable all staff to develop, a school’s core CPD model should enable the right degree of personalisation, supported by a non-core offer that can be opted into depending on areas of need or interest. Additionally, CPD is pivotal in preparing staff for their next steps, where and when that is the aspiration, and again this needs to be built into the regular rhythm of the school.

This model needs to enable sufficient flexibility to enable bespoke decisions that support our staff, not only in their development, but also in getting home at a decent hour! For example, where staff are undertaking an NPQ, how can we as leaders support them during their assessment window? Let’s pause their coaching cycle for a fortnight to give them time to focus on this development. As our CPD model is strengthened through its longevity, this flexibility is something I know I want to get better at.

“Intelligent accountability” and learning to “love uncertainty” (David Didau)

We offer a range of ‘extra-curricular’ CPD opportunities for those staff who want to give a bit of their ‘pie chart’ beyond the core model, but we don’t mind if staff don’t come. We don’t see that as a symptom of a lack of motivation to develop. It isn’t indicative of how engaged in CPD and a culture of professional learning staff are. It is indicative of what they have on that evening, of what their hobbies are, of their family situation, of how sunny it is outside.

Most of our teachers aren’t on Twitter, might never have read a whole edu-book from cover to cover, and that’s OK. We strive to seek out what is needed and distil this into our CPD framework. Yes, of course we want our staff to engage and be proactive about their development, but we recognise that this does not mean that all staff will fall into the ‘job as hobby’ camp, and that there are other elements of our roles that take up this time that might have been spent with a good edu-book and a cup of coffee. CPD should be prioritised, protected and impactful – vitally, our core CPD model should be good enough. And if we want to prioritise staff reading a book with a cup of coffee then the nature of the job means that we need to apportion off the time to make this a reality.

This is why I don’t, and won’t ever, keep a record of how many staff attend optional CPD, e.g. our 15-minute forum programme. I love these sessions. Our staff who present and attend tell me that they love these sessions (thank you Shaun Allison!). But I’m not going to record who attends – this is not indicative of culture. It is something that could change from school to school or over time depending on the age of the team, depending on what else is part of the CPD model – we could not say that an increase in attendance is the consequence of a stronger culture of professional learning.

In a job where the end of the day has a blurry line and the to-do list can be infinite, staff can go home and do things they love with people they love – go for a swim, read a book, pick up their children from school, go to the cinema with friends, or whatever else they enjoy filling their time, their pie chart, with. Or as Emma Kell says, “to splash around and howl with laughter in a swimming pool; to stand on the sidelines of my children’s football matches and whoop and holler whilst 100% there”. In doing so, we are aiming to be leaders who invest “in the wider part of the human being, beyond their work” (Mary Myatt). This is not something we have ‘nailed on’ but is a huge part of our thinking as we refine our CPD model for next year.

Better measures of impact

Of course, school leaders need to evaluate the impact of their work. In schools this is never easy because we face issues around correlation and causation, multiple inputs affecting singular outputs, and the intangibility of some of the impact measures we are looking to evaluate. In the second part of this article, I’ll share some thoughts about how we might go about evaluating the impact of CPD and the growth of a culture of professional learning. But for now, I will just close with a few of my favourite moments which you can’t measure.

The passing conversation with the Assistant Head of Sixth Form talking about how they had been recommended ‘Atomic Habits’ by the Head of Sixth Form and you recommend ‘Habits of Success’ in turn.

The AFL for Maths who wants to do a ‘15-minute forum’ because they were inspired by this blog from Tom Sherrington.

The non-teaching Head of Year who wants to come along to their first researchED as part of their new role as Faculty Research Lead.

The Science team who get giddy when Adam Boxer publishes a follow-up blog to a previous blog that had been hugely influential in their faculty teaching and learning policy.

But, importantly, we don’t believe that the staff who don’t read a blog, a book or want to go to researchED are any less dedicated than the staff that do! And walking into the lessons of teachers with all manner of pie charts fills me with equal joy.

To close Part 1…

Emma Kell also states, ““Beware those who preach wellbeing, as I have written many a time, because it’s more than likely because they know what it is to lose a sense of balance and perspective”. I can most definitely relate to this. My researchED talk in September will be looking at all things CPD and how to sensibly evaluate our impact – this article is the start of me delving deeper into reading and thinking around this area. For now, Kelly Tatlock (@socwarrior) and I strive to refine an impactful CPD model within the regular rhythms of school. CPD is too important to be reliant on goodwill. And people’s pie charts are too important to be taken for something that should be an enjoyable entitlement.


Allison, S. (2014) Perfect Teacher-Led CPD. United Kingdom: Crown House Publishing.

Boxer, A. (2023). Just 18 minutes of teaching. Available at: https://achemicalorthodoxy.co.uk/2023/05/10/just-18-minutes-of-teaching/ (Accessed: 3 June 2023).

Clear, J. (2018) Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. United Kingdom: Random House.

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‌Didau, D. (2020) Intelligent Accountability: Creating the Conditions for Teachers to Thrive. United Kingdom: John Catt Educational Limited.

Enser, Z., Enser, M. (2022) Why A CPD Curriculum Matters & How To Build One. Iris Connect. Available at: https://blog.irisconnect.com/uk/cpd-curriculum (Accessed: 3 June 2023).

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Wiliam, D. (2018) Creating the Schools Our Children Need: Why What We’re Doing Now Won’t Help Much (And What We Can Do Instead). West Palm Beach, Florida: Learning Sciences International.

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Nikki is a Deputy Headteacher working in Bradford. With experience in both pastoral and academic senior leadership in the UK and Malaysia, Nikki has led implementation of policy development, CPD, and building a team of Faculty Research Leads. She blogs at https://lovetotalktandl.wordpress.com/

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