Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome advocates to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Today, I got a good friend of mine miss Deanna Lough. She's here with me today. Without further ado Deanna, thank you so much for joining us.

Deanna Lough:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate this. I love talking anything equity and education and grades and lack thereofs.

Sheldon Eakins:

Well, you and I talked about being on a show, I don't know months ago and life happens, and I got caught up on some other projects and we lost touch for a minute. I'm glad that we're able to get this going. I mean I was just on your podcast, and I'll let you get a chance to talk about that as well, but again I'm glad that we're able to finally connect.

Deanna Lough:

Yeah. Me as well and like I told you, any opportunity I have to connect with you, I'll take you up on that anytime.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Well, that's cool with me. For those who don't know who Deanna is, could you share a little bit about yourself?

Deanna Lough:

Sure. I am a high school English teacher. I am from the State of Delaware, and I'm in year 17. I've reached that point where I have to think about how many years I've been in now before I respond to someone, but I am also a department coordinator at a 612 school. We have both middle and high school together at my school. I do professional learning scheduling for my school as well. I've been an instructional coach. I've been many capacity just in terms of roles that I've had with schools over the years. Yeah, and I teach ninth and tenth grade, love my students and I am the co-parent of the Speaking Educationally Podcast with Doug Tim and Gerard Phillips. We talk about all things equity and education.

Sheldon Eakins:

Lots of hats us. As educators, we do a lot of things these days. It's not surprising when I asked someone what did they do, tell me a little bit about yourself and they go through, "Man, I do 20 jobs in the same amount of time. I don't know how that works, but somehow that's what we end up doing." Yeah, thank you again and yeah, Speaking Educationally, right? That's the name of the podcast?

Deanna Lough:

Yes.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Well, thank you again. I was on the show. Again, if you haven't subscribed to their show, you got to jump on that because if you want to hear more equity conversations, you got to get on there. Definitely I recommend that show as well. Now, I want to talk about gradeless classrooms. Now in the past, I've had guests on the show. We talked about equity. We talked about what equity looks like in a classroom and grading. We've even talked about what assessments look like. I mean we've covered a lot of things, but I want to dig into not having any grades at all. I want to pitch the first question out to you about why gradeless classrooms?

Deanna Lough:

I started this journey about four years ago, and what brought me to gradeless was that I knew that I loved teaching, but I was so burned out that I didn't know if I could stay in the profession. It started with a couple of things. I saw some teachers do keynotes for different conferences and I thought to myself, well let me try these different things. There were a lot of things I tried with my classroom. I tried doing some different seating arrangements with flexible seating, which did help a little bit in terms of giving the students some flexibility within the classroom. I toyed around with maybe doing some gamification and thought let me try these different things.

                What I ended up doing one day after I had decided that I was going to apply for a job still in the education field, but outside of working in a school building, I Googled teacher burnout and started looking into what could I do, because I knew that I wasn't happy. I knew that if I stayed on the pathway that I was on, that I was going to leave education and I knew in the grand scheme for myself that I was put on earth to be a teacher. I didn't want to leave the profession, and so that's what started it for me. I Googled it and somewhere in my search, the first five items came up this article. Honestly, I've tried to find it again and I can't find it.

                I don't know if it was divine intervention, but it popped up and I started reading the article. One of the things that it discussed was doing a gradeless classroom, and what happens a lot of times for teachers is that we are told when we first start teaching that we need to develop these syllabi for our classroom. Every year, you come up with a syllabus, or a course outline, whatever it is that you start the year off with. You are told by somebody in the profession who's been in it much longer than you have that you need to make these iron-clad syllabi that if you ever take them into court, that they're indestructible. You start figuring out what policies, not what expectations, not what kind of relationships do I need to build, but what kind of policies do I need to put into my classroom.

                You start putting everything into these syllabi thinking that well, if I ever get called to the carpet for this, I need to have something that's going to back me up. What you end up doing is spending a lot of your time, effort, energy defending the policy, and not really defending what's in the best interest of students. That's what started it for me. I started looking into that and I was like, "Okay, what kinds of things can I do right now that are going to get me closer and closer to where I want to be eventually, which is not feeling the way I feel right now?" It started with little things. The first thing that I did was I threw the question out to my students and I said, "If this were your ideal classroom, what would this look and feel like for you?"

                I got a lot of responses back from the kids. I heard things like, "We want the classroom to feel it did when we were in elementary school." I was like, "Okay, great. I can work with that. What other things?" They were like, "Well, are you talking about the way the classroom looks? Are you talking about the kinds of things teachers do?" I said, "I'm talking about all of it." They're like, "Throw it all out for me, tell me what you think." This was the same year that I had a group of AP kids and the responses I got back from them before they left was the thing that they appreciated about me that year is I built relationships with my students. I went from asking my kids what they wanted out of a classroom situation to then it became well, let me change some other things.

                It became I started making sure that no student received less than a 50%. I defaulted to a 50 and even though there was necessarily no policy around that, it was also frowned upon to not go less than a 50%. There was a lot of mentality around well, if the student did nothing, then they shouldn't get a 50%. There was that talk and I thought well, that's a long way down. There are a lot of percentage points in there that go from a zero to a 50. That's a lot and I'm looking at we were on... I was at a school that did a 10-point spread between grades. I was like, "That's a lot." That was the next thing that I did was just take the less than 50% out of the equation completely.

                What I started realizing at that point was I didn't fall apart. Nothing bad happened when I changed this, but it did give my kids more of an opportunity and a chance, especially for those that don't know how to play school well. That was my first step there, and then I started taking late work and not penalizing students for it. Then the next thing was building relationships with kids. That then became my next priority is doing that, because I am not somebody who easily connects with others very well, which for some people is hard to believe, but I'm actually quite introverted. I do well having one-on-one conversations with people, but I don't do whole groups well. I just said, "You know what, I'm going to work on this."

                One huge I guess piece that was eye-opening for me, I had a student who was sensitive, really sweet kid, but just sensitive. I was missing several assignments from him and when I had a conversation with him, I said to him, "You've really got to get these assignments in." I don't remember exactly what he said, and I don't remember how I responded to it. I just know that when I said whatever I said, I remember the way he looked at me. It was like I had broken his heart and I thought to myself, what am I doing? What am I doing that a kid leaves my room thinking that the work they do for me is more valuable than who they are as a person? That changed everything for me.

                I became a very different person in that moment, and I apologized to the kid the next day. I said, "You know, I'm really sorry about what happened," and he's like, "It's okay." I was like, "No, it's really not. You should never leave my classroom thinking that you are of less value than what you do for me, and I don't think it's right." I said, "You need an apology." That just changed it for me and I said, "Let me start changing other things." It was a baby step, and it took me the better part of three years to get to that point, but then I started connecting with other people who I knew that they were doing something in the gradeless classroom. The odd thing is my plan wasn't to connect with these educators because they did gradeless.

                I just started looking for other things and when you start looking for things, you find things you're looking for. I started connecting with other people who were doing something either they were on their way to doing that, or they were already doing that and ended up having conversations about well, how do I do this and how do I get started because I didn't know how to do this, because I'd only ever been under a traditional system, where you have the assignment, the kid gets the grade, you pass the stuff back. Then there's a grade on it, and the kid looks at the paper, and then it ends up on the floor or shoved in a notebook or thrown in the trash can. I didn't know how to get started.

                I knew I didn't want to do that anymore, but I just didn't know how to get started. A lot of what they did for me was help me to figure out where to get to a place where I could do this and one, feel comfortable doing it and then two, how do you assess kids, how do you do this? I was already somebody who didn't do traditional assessments anyway. I don't give tests and quizzes, and I'm trying to remember... I mean it's been a long enough time since I've not given a test and a quiz, and I don't remember the last time I gave one. I'm not at that point with that, but I haven't done test and quizzes in years. I don't do a lot of traditional things that people would consider English teachers do.

                It then became okay, now that I understand how to get started with this, where do I end up? That took me up until last year, and I am slowly reaching a point where I'm not where I'm going to be exactly, but I'm getting there. I'm now starting to put things together, and our school started off the school year in a hybrid model. A lot of schools in the City of Delaware and actually across the country went fully remote first, and then decided to shift into hybrid. We started off hybrid. In starting off hybrid, one of the things that we also did was decide to go back to a four by four block, where we have two semesters in a year for the purposes of if we have to shift things over it would make that a little bit easier to do.

                The benefit of that and there are a lot of things that are very challenging and complicated in dealing with it, but the benefit of it is that before I start the next semester, I'll be able to make an adjustment based on what I did this semester. I have some wiggle room to do that. It's both exciting for me and a little bit challenging at the same time. I feel like that's almost the perfect blend as a teacher to have something that's a little bit exciting and challenging. I think it's these kinds of things that keep me going with the process.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. At the end of the day, it's something that you've been doing for a while, and you seem you're very comfortable about it. You threw out something that I didn't get an answer to, so I'm going to ask this question. Okay, with gradeless classrooms, how do you assess, or how do you know that a student has mastered or there's growth or whatever we're going to use, right? How do you know that that's happening?

Deanna Lough:

The easy answer is you start with the standards as they're written. That's the easy dive, and Delaware's a common core state, and everybody has their resources for common core. I use a book by Jim Burke who for anybody who's been teaching English for a while knows Jim Burke, and basically what he did was he broke down when you're looking at that standard what is that standard really asking. That's where I started and that first place for me was going through and doing prioritizing. My school is in year two of moving towards completely standards-based and even though there is some points in there, what I do like about it is that it does heavily emphasize prioritizing standards, because we really cannot do all the standards that are out there.

                There's just too many of them. I really looked at especially since we're on a semester block and understanding that I'm just not going to have the time to do what I would do if I was teaching a year-long course, even if the classes were AB block, I just don't have the same amount of time in a semester that I would have in a typical year. What I did was I started with that and I said, "Okay, what are the absolute standards I've got to get to this year and started there." For me, it was writing standard two which deals with informative and explanatory text. Starting with that and going okay, what is that standard asking me to do, and then understanding when I'm at that nine, 10 grade band if I have to go up to 11, 12 because I have a student who's advanced, then what does that mean?

                What does that look like? Then if I have to go down because the student is not at that standard yet, what does that mean? What does that look like? At that point, I then shifted over and went what can I do to make this into a single point rubric? That was the very next place I went to. This was my first year doing a single point rubric. I also had a lot of learning curve with that and I'm going, "Okay. Well, how is this supposed to look?"

Sheldon Eakins:

Wait, can I interrupt you? Tell me more about the single point rubric because that's new for me. Tell me about that one because normally, when I do rubrics, it's four points. Tell me more about that.

Deanna Lough:

What I did was basically, it's three columns. The center column lists the standard and then underneath it is emerging meeting and exceeding.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay.

Deanna Lough:

It's those three categories, and actually I try to flip it. The other piece of it was creating a rubric that was not loaded with deficit language, which a 4-point rubric is going to be loaded with deficit language.

Sheldon Eakins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Deanna Lough:

That was my next step was creating a rubric where you removed all the deficit language. I then went okay, down the middle and looked at how many rows do I need. What I ended up situating on were six. The kid is either going to be one of those three categories and then on the left and right side of that is a glows and grows. The glow is meaning what did you do well with this piece, the grows meaning what didn't you do well. One of my arguments for what oftentimes happens for not our kids who are in the emerging category, but our kids who are in the meeting and exceeds is that they reach a point where they don't even know what they did right, because they got a mark and then the papers got headed back to him.

                I used to teach dual enrollment to seniors, and one of my seniors came up to me and said, "You know, I used to get As and hundreds on papers last year and I don't know why I got an A or 100 on anything, and one of the things I need your help with is helping me to figure out as a writer if I am doing something well, why is it working?" Those elements are equally if not more important than finding out what you're not doing well. Because as a writer, you should be able to articulate to somebody else well, I did this thing and here's why it worked. Because as English teachers, we do analysis work with kids all the time that if we have to talk about what the writer did and the writer who writes it can't articulate what they did, that's a problem.

                That's where I started with it was doing the single point. Really each of those are out of six, and what ended up happening for me is that I can't get out of assigning points completely. That's been the thing that's been most challenging for me is because I can't get rid of the points, there is no way within our learning management system that I can get around that. What I ended up doing was making everything one point. If you're emerging, you have one point. If you are meeting, you are one point. If you are exceeding you are one point, but what that ended up doing was it forced the kids to look at the feedback on the left and right side.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay.

Deanna Lough:

That's how I ended up where I was with this ,and it's definitely not a perfect system. I would like to be able to eliminate the numerical grade altogether, because it gets confusing. Because if you start looking at if a parent looked at their child's report on a given assignment, and they saw a three out of six, they'd immediately make that into a 50%.

Sheldon Eakins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Deanna Lough:

That's where it can become problematic because once a kid gets a grade on something, most of the time they will shut down, and that's not what I want because I want the learning to take front of everything. I've had conversations with other educators where I've said to them, "You can't have a conversation with a student and talk about especially with what we're dealing with right now, because you don't know what kids are dealing with. You don't know if a kid is in a great situation at home, but a terrible situation at school. You don't know if it's the other way around. You don't know if this is a kid who's struggling with anxiety and depression, and is really good at masking." To go with I love you,

                I care about you, I want you to take care of yourself, your mental health is important, and then to turn around and flip and go, "But you've got to get your work in, you have to meet this deadline, you have to do this." My point to that educator is always the kid is going to miss something you're saying, and it's going to be that you care about them. They're going to miss that. They will hear the teacher wants the assignment, I have to meet the deadline, it doesn't matter what I'm going through or dealing with, and they won't miss all of that in favor of hearing that you want this stuff in. That's the shift that I had to think about. In doing that, the switch with the rubric, so that was the next place that I started with.

                After that, it became okay, let me look at how I'm assessing the kids. Now that I've got this firm rubric in place, it then becomes okay, what do I need to do instructionally and honestly breaking those steps down, even just those things, it's made me a lot better at educating at teaching because I am a ton more mindful of exactly what those standards mean and what I'm doing in order to help kids be able to my hope is meet those standards, because I had to really think hard about what that looked. That took me probably from the start of this... I started this process in July. I would say it probably took me from about July to about mid-September to figure out exactly what that needed to look, and it still involved tweaking.

                I think I'm finally at a point with a rubric, where I feel good about it. I may not feel good about it in May and decide I want to throw everything out and start over again which a lot of us do every year, but I am a ton more mindful about what I'm asking students to do and what I need to do as a teacher to help get them there.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. Now I like to ask a question when it comes to student involvement, because I heard you say you did pitch out questions to students initially before you got into the gradeless classroom. You asked them, "Well, what would you like to know?" Is that process still something that you do while you're gradeless, or I'm thinking about planning this down the road, or I want this rubric or hear some feedback? What type of student involvement are you able to give throughout this process?

Deanna Lough:

The students once they get some feedback from me off of one assignment, they start to get an idea for where am I with my writing, what do I need to do. We do a significant focus around text-based writing because analysis is predominantly text based. We do a huge focus with that. There are two things I do with that. One is when we shifted to being fully remote in the springtime when COVID first took over our lives, I started doing a weekly check-in with the students, and a lot of it was asking some basic questions. How are you feeling? How's your mental health? What's happened from the last week that you feel that I need to know? Do you feel like you could use more time with me for additional support?

                I would always ask fun questions too. I think one was asking students to make a suggestion about what is something that you feel that Mrs. Lough should check out, and it was a lot of suggestions for TikTok, a lot of suggestions for TikTok. There were fine questions in there as well, but when we started this current school year, I think the one of the first questions I asked was, what do you see your other teachers doing that you think is a great idea and Mrs. Lough should take into consideration? I heard great things about my colleagues, really awesome things about my colleagues. Some of it was definitely doable and some of it wouldn't work, but that was the start of it and each week I would ask them a question about what are things that are working for you, what are things that are not.

                I've made a lot of adjustments to my instruction because of that. Each week, I explained to the kids based on what you suggested, here are some adjustments I'm making. What I ended up doing last week was I did a playlist last week which I've never done before, but I did that based on my students feeling like I had a bunch of students that were struggling with they felt like they weren't moving quickly enough through their essay or through their close reading, or through some of the other activities. I created the playlist, and I introduced at the beginning of the week and said, "You are going to have the entire week to work on this. I am going to be here to support you. I will conference with you individually and at the end of the week with a check-in, how did the playlist go?"

                I got a lot of feedback on that, and a lot of the students were really very excited about it. They loved that they could dictate how much and how little of their time they used on a given activity during class time. It was very helpful for students, especially being in hybrid because I knew most of my kids, I would see at least twice that week, so in person. Then other kids, I would go out in the hallway and just keep the door open, so that I could see into my classroom. I would individually conference with students. I'd set up breakout rooms, and there were some students that wanted to meet with me in a breakout room to get some extra support.

                There were some students that just wanted a breakout room, because they wanted to be left alone. They wanted to be able to just get in there and focus. They feel like having the faces and the chat was distracting for them. There were students that said, "Can I just have a breakout room to go work by myself?" I said, "Absolutely not a problem." That was another bit of feedback that I got from this coming week, it's going to be at the beginning of the week, I've been using Pear Deck a lot too which has been very helpful. One of my first questions for this week on Pear Deck was rate how you feel about analyzing text. I did a 531 and I explained you could go two and four if you wanted to, you could do 3.5 whatever.

                My follow-up question for that which I will give out to them tomorrow is how based on where you were at the beginning of the week, where do you feel you are now in terms of analyzing text? I'll be able to dictate what I do next week based on that feedback. I take all that into consideration, and the other piece too is with their pieces that they get back from me, they set their own goals. That's the thing that I think is difficult for people to sometimes wrap their brain around, but I believed years ago when I still continue to believe this that nobody will ever be a perfect writer. You get as good as you can get, and it's these incremental changes that make us better.

                I'm still becoming a better writer, and I just don't believe that the writing process can necessarily be mastered. I believe you get better at it, and your writing gets better over time. I'm certainly a much better writer today than I was 10 years ago. I don't think that kids can master the process. I think that they can get continuously better at it. They set their goal based on feedback from me and something that they want to work on, and I'm in the process of approving their goals right now. Really the only goals I don't approve are ones that aren't specific enough, and then I conference with the student individually and help them come up with something that is a little bit more focused because they want things that they can actually look for.

                I had a couple students talk about their I want to become better at close reading. Great, what's going to be your evidence for that?" We have that conversation and look at, "Okay, so yes, you do you want to get better at close reading, but the way you measure that is through your responses. How well are you putting evidence on paper, and then does your evidence make sense given what you're claiming about what the author does, and then are you able to actually articulate on the other end of it the connectedness between the choice the author makes in a device and how that gets us to purpose and theme?" That's where we end up. What they end up doing from there is going through and tracking their own learning based on their goal.

Sheldon Eakins:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Deanna Lough:

They will then have a conference with me and by the way, none of this is original. I just need to throw out there that I have taken these great ideas from all these other educators that have been doing this a lot longer than I have. What we do is we do a lot of informal conferencing and talking, but they are responsible for tracking their learning. They have to sit down with me and say, "Here is my growth, here's evidence of my growth and based on what, I'm presenting to you here is where I feel in terms of my grade," because we still have the grade report. There's no option for me to just say to a parent, "Your child is wonderful. They've learned a lot. This is fantastic."

                Because especially with being in high school, if you teach kids that are in their junior and senior year, they need their transcripts. You have to make some allowances for that, but what that does is it creates a power with environment in your classroom versus a power over because as the teacher, I am the most powerful person in the classroom I can either choose to use that power and bring everybody with me, or I can continue to do what I did for a long time, which is to see it over top of students and hold over their head they're great.

                What ended up happening is for years, and I remember somebody talking years ago about allowing kids to retest and thinking to myself well, there's no way I could do that, but looking at it now, I don't know how I could ever again do a classroom where kids didn't get second chances. It's been that shift, and what I have found is that there's actually better learning occurring now than there was years ago. The kids know more. They understand themselves as learners so much better. My classroom is not a scary place to be because I can be very intimidating, and it's not just because I have power in the classroom. It is because of how I run the classroom. Kids can be very intimidated by that.

                I don't really have that issue to my knowledge. Now I could and just I'm not aware, but it's little tiny things. I had a kid today. We talked at the beginning of the school year, and this was a kid who got once he had to go fully remote, lost all sense of understanding what he needed to do because he really relied on social cues that happen in a school environment. A bell schedule and what are his classmates doing and having a set of slides in front of them to look off of, and he lost all of that. He really got lost, and one of the conversations we had was, "I don't want you to end up in the same situation you were in the springtime, so please don't wait until it gets overwhelming before you communicate with me."

                He messaged me in the chat on Zoom today at the beginning class and said, "Do you mind if I stay for five minutes so that I can just talk to you and make sure that I'm on the right track," which is a which is a huge deal. I'm like, "This is a kid who's now starting to understand how he needs to navigate his schedule." It's these little tiny things that are happening over time that have been rewarding. Not only that, but it's I don't hate my job. That has been the biggest thing, and I tell people all the time that I was like, "I don't know how to explain to you how much this is going to change your life until you do it, and then you realize how much it changes your life."

                I said, "You just need to do it," but it was I remembered last year, I was driving home from work and I was thinking about the day. I'm like, "I don't have anything to put in my syllabus, like nothing" and I'm like, "I don't even know what to send home to parents because I don't know what to put in there." I was boxing one of my friends and I'm like, "I am the most relaxed I have ever been at the start of the school year, and actually I enjoy my job." I tell people all the time, "I've got my sense of humor back. The kids are funny and I laugh with them. It's just made me joyful, and I didn't realize how badly I was as a teacher the victim of a system that was not set up to make me successful either."

                It's like it certainly doesn't make our kids successful, but I didn't realize how much I had played into that, what damage it was doing to me.

Sheldon Eakins:

I mean there's so much stress that comes along with being a teacher, and then we got to worry about grading papers. Those papers start to stack up and you got a hundred plus kids, and you got to go through all their work, and I get it. Now if your class, is it pass or fail? Are you doing letter grades? I mean because I was thinking about the GPAs and transcripts and things like that. How is that scaled so that folks can move on with their transcripts and things like that?

Deanna Lough:

They do receive a letter grade. When we have those rating conferences, the students have an opportunity to say, "Here is what I've learned. Here's how I've demonstrated I've learned it, and here's what I feel I've earned based on what I can demonstrate."

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay.

Deanna Lough:

The way that I explain it to kids is it's very similar to if you were to sit down and have a conversation with your boss about potentially getting a raise, what would that sound like. It's their opportunity to voice where they feel that they are in the process, and it's interesting because whenever I've had these kinds of conversations with students, I don't have a lot of students who over project a grade. I have a lot of students who under project a grade, but we have that conversation. I don't shut down an opportunity for a student to do better, but we go over a list of criteria. That's the plan moving forward is that you have to adhere to this criteria, and you need to think about it.

                Have you demonstrated at every opportunity what your learning is? Even these small things and I explained to them, "When I say to you it's time to process what you're thinking, have a conversation with your classmates." I go around and I listen to the kids conversations. I check off if I can hear, "Are you in this conversation having any sort of language around what the concepts are in the class? If you are, I can check that off, we're good to go. If I can't check it off, then you have another opportunity to demonstrate that." What I look at is I look at what I have in my book in comparison to what they have. If they're not quite there, maybe they're missing a lot of work. They've missed a lot of deadlines.

                They have not been detailed and thorough and explanations. They're not applying the feedback. I don't think we can have a conversation about an A. I just don't think that that's possible, but you're definitely maybe in the range of a B, probably most firmly a C, but I don't go less than a C, unless the student has not demonstrated at all that they've learned anything. It's just that I decided I was going to try that out for this year, especially what we're dealing with everything right now because I don't know, there are some students that I have where the county that I teach in, internet is just it's horrible. Some of them have better access than others.

                Some of the students when they get on the Zoom, if they try and do anything on Zoom and have their camera on, their processors slow down and it drops them out of the call. I try and lay on the side of if your student has not done anything at all to demonstrate that they've learned anything, then the first thing I do is make that contact with the parent and make the attempt to get the student where they need to be. I have rarely had a situation where I felt that a failing grade in this process of doing this because there was a time where I went, "Yup, feeling great. Ten years ago, I didn't do it, feeling great." Now over the last three years, I've very rarely had an instance where I've had a student just flat out fail.

                Every student has demonstrated to some level what their learning has been. For me, that's been crucial. They have to be able to set and track their own goals and to me, kids tell me all the time, "This is way harder. It's way harder to do this than it is to go in and take a test and call it a day." Then it's like if they didn't study for it, then they might get yelled at by their parents later on, but they'll take another test, or they'll beg for extra credit or what have you. For me, what really broke me down as a teacher was trying to deal with those type of negotiations. Aas a teacher, I mean I feel everything's a negotiation because a kid's going to come to you in the 25th hour and want to hand in work.

                It's like I could be that person that says, "No, absolutely not," but it's like, but then if I tell a kid no, I'm at home at 7:30 at night trying to get my kid ready for school for the next day and doing all this other stuff and trying to be mom. Then I'm mentally thinking about that kid asking me to turn in work in the 25th hour, and I'm not present with my family. They didn't have me here like I was physically present, but I wasn't present with my family because my mind was constantly on those other things. With this, my mind's not on trying to uphold the policies in my classroom that were hurting both my students and me.

                I might be thinking about work, but I'm thinking about, "Oh, that would be a cool lesson I didn't do my classroom," and this, "Oh, I got to make sure that I connect with this kid and check on this kid." Those kinds of things don't drain my soul. They actually energize me. When I go into work, I'm not feeling overwhelmed and there are some educators right now where the whole shift of what we have had to do to make sure that we are being more equitable with our students, they are really having these hard moments right now because October generally speaking for education is hard. The honeymoon's over. You're not eating as well as you were. You're not sleeping as many hours as you were, and it's just hard.

                I'm not having those same really difficult moments that a lot of educators are having because I shifted my thinking and started the process of this several years ago. I think I'm actually handling a lot of this much better than some of the other teachers are.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. We just hit or you just hit folks with a lot of information on gradeless classrooms, and I know that there's going to be some advocates out there that's like, "Okay, I'm in, sign me up. I'm going to try this." Maybe they're not going to try tomorrow, but they'll try it maybe next semester or next year, next quarter, whatever, right? You said that you got a lot of this information from various places.

Deanna Lough:

Yes.

Sheldon Eakins:

Could you share maybe some teacher groups, some resources, some places where we could go to learn more about how to do this and some of your favorite go-to educators that are out there that you learn from?

Deanna Lough:

Sure, absolutely. Starr Sackstein's one of my favorites. She's been doing this for a long time, and she has a Facebook group called Teachers Throwing Out Grades. There are actually a lot of Facebook live recordings that she's had that I've watched to help me figure out how to navigate the process. She's definitely somebody to check out in her groups on Facebook. Human Restoration Project which has been phenomenal. Chris McNutt, Nick Covington, both of them do a gradeless classroom and they have a lot of resources for free. If anybody's interested in becoming a Patreon supporter, they do take donations through Patreon, which they've been very helpful for me to try and get to a place where I understand what I need to do with grading.

                Teachers Going Gradeless, Aaron Blackwelder, great organization. Aaron's done a lot of work in supporting me and a lot of other educators he's connected with and understanding what that a gradeless classroom can look like, because that's the other thing people want to make it into. It needs to be this very, very narrow thing, and it really can look like many different things. He's been enormously helpful. Point-Less, I'm trying to remember... Sarah Zerwin, it's her book and if you are somebody who is trying to adjust your feedback. Matthew Johnson has a book called... Oh goodness, the title literally just left me, until it's Thursday. I'm Thursday tired, but he has a great book on providing feedback.

                He also has a website too. If I can remember it, I'll share the information with you Sheldon, but yeah, they have been my lifesaver with that. If you're on Twitter, Teachers Going Gradeless has a TG2 chat that they do Sunday evening. It's every other Sunday at 9:00, so that's also a great place to check out. If you're just want to dabble and you maybe want to lurk in a twitter chat, that would be a good one to do, Sunday nights at 9:00 to help you get a little bit of an idea of how to make some adjustments.

Sheldon Eakins:

Nice. All right. Well, Deanna, I asked this question all the time. You are considered a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?

Deanna Lough:

I would say if you were interested in getting started with a gradeless classroom, baby step it, do something a little along the way. You will start to realize when you start abandoning policies that you create for your classroom, and you do a power with environment with your students that you will realize you didn't need the policies in order to have good relationships with students and improve learning, because really that really should be what is at the center anyway. Focusing on the learning does a lot to create that equitable space in your classroom and ultimately, it's good for you and it's good for the kids.

Sheldon Eakins:

All right. Deanna, if we got some folks that want to reach out to you, what's the best way to connect with you online?

Deanna Lough:

I would say Twitter would probably be the best place to reach me. My Twitter handle is @Hessteacherest.

Sheldon Eakins:

There it is. All right. Well, and we're looking forward to the book that comes out one day on gradeless classroom. I'm waiting on that to come out, so you got to let us know when that happens.

Deanna Lough:

If I ever do, you will be the first one to know Sheldon.

Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. All right. Well, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much Deanna for sharing with us today.

Deanna Lough:

Yeah, thanks for having me on Sheldon. I appreciate it.

 

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