We All Carry a Backpack

We All Carry a Backpack

Written by: Dr. Sara M. Scharoun Benson, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Windsor

Cover Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

In our first #OnHumanLearn session, Unlearning & Unsettling, a backpack analogy was used to explain how we all carry our unique histories and experiences into every interaction. From this, a clear picture was painted in my head. I saw myself pre-COVID standing in a vibrant, crowded lecture hall on the first day of class with my backpack in tow; its contents filled with preconceived notions of how my course should be structured, how my assessments should be designed, and how the term should unfold. The image fades and a new one appears. Now, I am sitting in-front of my computer in my home office with the same backpack, uncertain of how the contents would serve me in this new teaching environment. I had dedicated so much time and energy carefully considering what to put into my backpack, and was beginning to feel settled with its contents as an early career faculty member. Abruptly transitioning from in-person to online teaching made me feel like I had been thrown into the middle of the ocean without any knowledge of how to swim, my backpack weighing me down instead of helping me to stay afloat.

Although some of the contents of my backpack remain, many have been updated or replaced entirely in consideration of the unique learning environment that is online teaching. Each #OnHumanLearn conversation has challenged me to consider the contents of my backpack. For example, in the first breakout session of #ONHumanLearn, we were asked to consider: “What are we unlearning? What do we need to unlearn? What is unlearning?” The conversation in our breakout group commenced with uncertainty…where do we even start? I imagined each group member emptying our backpacks on the table for close inspection. At the same time, I was uncertain if I felt comfortable sharing my contents when we had only introduced ourselves. In that moment, I felt uncomfortable, and this was the exact state that I needed to be in to fully appreciate the importance of our conversation. We discussed the innate desire to protect ourselves, while acknowledging that embracing an uncomfortable state, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, is an essential part of growth. As educators, it is essential that we acknowledge our privilege and power as we consider what more can be done to humanize our teaching.

As I look back to March 2020 and the shift from in-person to online teaching with COVID-19, it is clear that my active unlearning and unsettling process began well before our first #OnHumanLearn session. I whole heartedly believe this is an ongoing process that will continue throughout my career. Engaging in #OLDFF has been integral to the process, enabling me to reflect inward, while gaining valuable insight from the diverse perspectives and experiences of the #OnHumanLearn community. I will miss these Thursday conversations and am forever grateful for the opportunity!

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