Partner School Stories

Perspective Challenge

By Jennifer A. Gray

It all started with a crazy idea I thought would never fly. While having dinner with a group of teachers one evening as part of a Positivity Project presentation, we began discussing the upcoming character strengths. As a school in their first year of P2, we are learning as we go and continually seeking out ways to teach our students about the character strengths.

So, knowing the upcoming character strength was Perspective, I made a crazy suggestion. I asked the small group of teachers present if they would consider switching roles with a colleague to see what school was like through a different lens. This group of eager teachers quickly jumped on board, joking about what their preferred job would be — and the Perspective Challenge was born.

4th Grade Teacher Angelique Santimaw gets some help in the classroom as the students teach her how their room is run in Kindergarten.

At the next faculty meeting, we pitched the Perspective Challenge to the entire staff on a purely voluntary basis. We created a shared Google Doc for staff to sign up and list their three top choices for the challenge. The building’s excitement and chatter about this event quickly spread as teachers joked with one another about their ideal role. Once I sat down to create the schedule, I opened the shared Google Doc expecting to see only 10-15 people interested in this crazy idea. But what I found shocked me.

4th Grade Teacher Emily McCabe struggles to balance all of the work the school secretaries do as the office secretary Geri Lynn Wilson offers her some guidance.

Over 75% of staff members in my very diverse building agreed to participate. After spending hours creating a highly intricate schedule, which allowed the majority of people to experience school from their preferred perspective, I shared the tentative plan with the staff. The school was quickly abuzz as people shared their excitement about their “new job”. Custodians swapped with aides, Kindergarten teachers swapped with 4th grade teachers, secretaries swapped with teaching assistants, counselors swapped with custodians, and teachers filled in as the principal.

School Counselor Marc Porcaro and 2nd Grade Teacher run into some snags when they assumed their new role as custodian and laminating queen.

Kindergarten Teacher Patty Gagnon makes new friends in her new role as a Teaching Assistant in AIS.

On that Friday you could feel the excitement in the air. As children stepped off the bus we heard them saying “Who are you going to be today?” “I wonder who my teacher is going to be.” We talked with them about how their teachers were gaining a new perspective on teaching and keeping an open-mind and being curious about what others do.

To say this was a morale booster for my staff is an understatement. Prior to this, we had staff who taught in the same building for years but rarely saw — or even walked down the same hallways — as their colleagues. The Perspective Challenge broke down those barriers and forced staff to interact, communicate, and collaborate with one another. Teachers left school that day with a greater appreciation for their co-workers and more empathy for the work they do. The Perspective Challenge was such a hit they have already asked to do it again this Spring!

Jennifer A. Gray
Principal, Lawrence Avenue Elementary

I started my career in education as a 5th grade teacher and moved into teaching PreK for several years before becoming a principal. As a principal, I enjoy the daily interactions with students and staff. Every day is an adventure!