Lower School News 

Faculty in Focus: Mary Davenport, High School English Teacher
Posted 10/30/2019 09:50AM

1. You have a master's degree in educational equity and cultural diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder with an emphasis in linguistically diverse education. How does your degree help at Graded?
For my entire career up until Graded, I taught in school districts where the vast majority of students were minorities who faced oppressive educational, economic, social, political, and belief systems. I sensed that in order to create a thriving classroom culture, I had to spend every day telling them a different story than they had heard all their lives: you matter; si se puede; you are safe; you belong; I will not insult you by expecting anything less than the best; I got your back.

It turns out, my master's degree equipped me with the language and pedagogy for this innate belief: affective filter. Some fancy education and linguistic researcher named Stephen Krashen found lots of evidence to back up the idea that students who are learning a second language will not learn unless they feel safe in a classroom, unless teachers take measures to lower their affective filters. #micdropyo

It's what we all know, isn't it? Despite our busy culture, distracting interactions, and never-ending multitasking, the risky presence of our authentic hearts is required to learn. Yes...a second language. But I would argue a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g.
THIS is the core of who I am as a teacher, from the "hood" to the halls of Graded. And I have learned that it doesn't matter, the parents' paychecks, or access to resources, or the native language, or the color of the skin, or the status of citizenship:  All people need love.

And so I take certain measures to create in my classroom a space safe for hearts: mindfulness, check-ins, circles, feedback opportunities, laughter, raw transparency, daring conversations, and nonacademic moments of human beingness. This is also why I took on the role of the Community Connections Coordinator. I see this as an opportunity to advocate for students, to build a meaningful mentoring program, and to foster vibrant space at Graded for hearts. 

It also is why I am a fierce advocate of adult culture at Graded, too. Our teacher hearts matter, too. We can sometimes get so consumed filling the cups of our students and our families that we forget to fill ours, too. 

We need people who are guardians of hearts. This is why I teach. #heartsmatter


2. What is your favorite way to spend a long weekend or short vacation?
I used to have the perfect dog, Spooner. He would go, go, go when we went, and he would chill, chill, chill when we were at home. He was my animal spirit. 

On the weekends, I live in the soft paradox between activity and inertia. So my first answer to this question is...
Naps! Or as my best friend calls them—because they are long and sluggish and hard to wake up from and kind of ruin her nonstop agenda—"day sleeps." There is nothing like crawling into the darkened sanctuary of my comfy bed and disappearing under the weight of blankets to just let go, to breathe (and maybe to snore).

But, on the flip side, I love to explore. From breweries to beaches, mountain trails to museum halls, one of the reasons my husband and I moved overseas was the call of adventure. Our first year here, after getting settled in, I think we traveled every long weekend and holiday break. Truth be told, I can get a little obsessed about travel planning (I think my other life calling is to be a travel agent), so that's half the fun. Right now we're dreaming of a trip to New Zealand, so that's taking up my free time. #firstworldproblems #I'lltakeonefortheteam


3. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my mom getting up long before the sun, playing a few games of Atari with me curled on her lap, before she headed off to work. All my life she was up in the blue-cold-quiet-darkness of the morning. I didn't get it.

And now, as the trajectory of life goes, I find myself also a morning person. I get it. There is something so special about the stillness of the morning. Our apartment porch is perfect for this: we have flocks of chattering parakeets and those yellow Brazilian birds who sound like they're yelling "Hercules" and doves that wake the sun with their melodic song. And, I am at my best in the morning. Work that takes me an hour in the afternoon or evening takes half that time in the morning. So I like to make my mornings as productive as possible, be it hitting the gym or getting to work early. Because of this, I am most definitely not a night owl. I am in bed every night by 9. #dinnerreservationsat5please #ohwaittheydon'topenuntil6


4. You're a trained yoga teacher. Does that carry over into your classroom in any way?
Yoga for me was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Though I've always been active, it is different to be together with a group of people working toward the same goal. It's even more special when we are breathing and beating with what feels like the same lungs and heart.

Yoga introduced me to being present through breath. That introduction, coupled with grieving the death of both my parents, led me to meditation. It started with a few silent weekend retreats. Then I found myself in a 5-night silent meditation retreat in the breath-giving mountains of New Mexico. I could not get out of my own head, but I had nowhere else to go. It was torture. It was transformative. Slowly, I incorporated mindfulness into my regular routine. I set a goal in 2017 to meditate every day. And I did. And it was powerful.

As someone who has always been plagued by anxiety, I felt myself changing... not out of striving, but through some kind of inward—almost magical—restoration. My own experience, coupled with my training through Mindful Schools, led me to begin offering mindfulness in my classroom. #everysingleclass

If I can have a soapbox moment: I am worried about the enormous pressure our High School students face. They are overwhelmed and sleep-deprived and hyperalert and double-triple booked and overstimulated and constantly behind and always worried about their future (which is so very bright) and bombarded with messages of not being good enough (which is so very false). Again, I come back to the heart. What can I offer them, besides the best teaching, that will serve their spirits? 

Mindfulness. All kinds of research tout its benefits: from sleeping better to stronger relationships to less stress to better academic results to improved athletic performance to... I could go on and on. So now I start every class with a short mindful practice. It is a moment to stop and breathe and be. It is a moment to shift from what was to what is. It is a moment to notice without judgment. It makes me a better teacher. I hope it helps my students' hearts, both immediately for that day's lesson, but also—and most importantly—for the time that comes after that.


5. In what way did your own experience as a student in middle school or high school lead you to become an English teacher?
His name is Strauss. He was my high school AP English teacher. We had the best discussions, even arguments, in class. His daughter and I bonded over gymnastics. He personally took me on a college tour. He taught me that it is not about answers, but about questions; it is not about content, but about connection.

I was fortunate: he was the apex in a long line of great teachers in my life. But honestly, this would not have happened in the same way had my parents not moved our family out of the Chicago city into its suburbs where education was, I hate to say it, better. My parents wrote my first suburban teacher a letter of commendation at the end of my 2nd grade year because they were so impressed by the difference.  #zipcodesshouldn'tdetermineeducationalquality


6. If you had an unlimited shopping spree at only one store, what store would you choose? Why?
OMG, this question. I hope my husband doesn't read this, ha! First: Ulta. Ulta is like Sephora, a mecca for makeup lovers. And that I am. I am obsessed, ok maybe addicted, to eye shadow palettes. I have like ten. And I can't stop. #can'tstopwon'tstop #somebodyhelpme

It started, I think(?), when I went to beauty school. I took a break from college and became a cosmetologist, and I loved what I could do with makeup looks on myself and friends. I am especially obsessed with eyes. At one point, I would clip out of magazines images of eye makeup styles I liked, and they were all hanging on my bathroom closet door. #creepy

I'm not that far gone now. But rarely do I repeat the same eye makeup look in a week. #eyeshadowfordays

My second choice, despite the cliche, would have to be a bookstore. Doesn't it just smell like an old soul? The rows of words and stories and pretty displays of stationary and endless selections of journals just waiting to be filled and choices of cards to gift people. Being in a bookstore makes my heart happy.

7. What's your favorite animal? 
Ahh, the easiest question. Horses. Though not easy to explain.

If there are any spiritual readers up in the hizzy, you know about John Eldridge. He is an author who writes about "divine rumors." It's like a hint of something eternal, a whisper to something greater than us. Something we can't quite articulate, or capture, yet nonetheless we feel it, we deeply experience it. That, for me, is horses. When I see them, smell them, groom them, ride them, I am transported somewhere better, somewhere "wholer," somewhere right. Sometimes, just a glimpse of one grazing on a distant hill is enough to reduce me to tears. 

I ache for horses. Though I have never been able to afford my own (either space- or price-wise), I seek them out whenever I can. My husband and I were so very fortunate to spend about a week on horseback through Patagonia. It was... divine.#takeme(horse)back


8. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
The very thing that makes the world go round: hearts. 

From day one, the students embraced me and welcomed me and made me feel part of the community. The staff, the leadership, and my colleagues treat people like humans, not data points. The parents greet me warmly with beijos at conferences, and we form true partnerships. This campus is also good for my heart. I love walking in early to the serenade of birds in the Student Center and the slant of the sun through the trees. Looking out from my classroom and seeing people learn and linger in hammocks is therapeutic. And I would be remiss to not mention the vivaciousness of Graded... and Brazil. Hands down the best parties I've ever been to as a teacher.  #workhardplayhard #partyhearty

Av. José Galante, 425
São Paulo, SP - Brazil - 05642-000
T: 55-11-3747-4800
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