Reflections on the 9x9x25 Challenge


20071230reflection1The last nine weeks have been interesting participating in the 9x9x25 Challenge.  I, like most of my colleagues who have participated in this writing, share the feeling of regret that it has come to an end, but also feelings of relief that there is one less thing I have to do in the upcoming week.  The joy of writing is something I felt years ago when I was an avid journal writer. Every day I would write in my leather bound book thoughts, feelings, joys, disappointments, and dreams. It was easy then because no one but me would be reading it, but now through the magic of technology, everyone has access to my words.  I’m not a writer. I struggle at times translating my thoughts to paper.  My wife who is a published author can whip out 8 to 10 pages, no sweat. I on the other hand will spend 10 minutes writing out a Thank You card. So this writing challenge these past 9 weeks has been rewarding because I rediscovered the joy of writing. 


Writing these weekly submissions for my blog allowed me to not only focus on myself as an instructor, but perhaps more importantly, focus on myself as a learner.  I’m always amazed how we teach is how we learn.  I think the 9x9x25 Challenge can be a critical component in helping probationary instructors as well as seasoned instructors share, learn and invent or even re-invent themselves. We sometimes spend too much time discussing what’s not working in the classroom. Providing a space to openly share those magical moments we have in the classroom becomes a reminder to all of us why we do what we do. I always knew that I was lucky to work with so many wonderful instructors, but to be able to openly learn from such a talented faculty has made me humble, for these talented individuals are also my friends.  

So, I thank all who shared your wisdom, joy, concerns, and ideas making us all better teachers and better students.  You all inspire me to be better, to try things out of the ordinary, to take risks, and to believe what we do is so important. Also, my students thank you, for with every post I read, I take a little of you into my classroom and my students benefit from it as well.  

Thank you to Charlie for bringing Yoga consciousness into the classroom, and Jason and Erin for their eloquent and witty writing skills, (I’m jealous), and Karly for reminding us the importance of trusting the process of learning as well as trusting ourselves, and Curtis for reminding us of the frustrations of our technology yet keeping our sense of humor, and Mark for writing about the need for more effective seating in classrooms, and everyone else I didn’t mention for sharing your experience and wisdom. Especially a big Thank You to Todd who had the vision of the 9x9x25 Challenge and like a Zen master, recognized the simple act of writing could awaken so many of us. 

Samurai warrior

Is this the last of my weekly posts?  I think not.



Optimism in the Classroom

575x270-panoramic_optimism_future_16181One of the topics we discuss in my Counseling Skills class is the importance of optimism and how it’s used in developing a therapeutic relationship. In counseling we recognize the importance of how a person thinks is directly related to how they act.  Now we know that before any real change takes place in counseling, the person needs to be willing to change. In applying this concept to teaching, it brings to mind some possibilities of how to teach with optimism.  The word itself, optimism, comes from the Latin word “optimum” which translates to “best.” The Greek origin of the word optimism comes from the word “optim”, which translates to “power.”  Bringing the “best power” in the classroom.

Some of the things we know about the effects of optimism are the following:

Optimistic people are more physically healthy. They get sick less, have stronger immune systems and are more likely to achieve because they don’t give up too easily. Also, they tend to have a higher state of emotional health and have better coping skills in dealing with life’s setbacks.  So how do we apply the notion of optimism in the classroom?

We are all aware of the importance of getting students involved in the classroom. Sitting in classroom and being a passive observer, a non-participant, not only takes the power away from the student, but as an instructor, it takes my energy away as well.  Lecturing to a room full of students who show about as much enthusiasm as an eraser is not very empowering to me, so I decided a long time ago that part of teaching is promoting energy in the learning process. The way of doing this is not only involving students in their own learning, but getting them to feel more optimistic about their ability to learn.  ‘If I feel I am capable of learning, I will learn.”  As in counseling, empowering our students should be the foundation by which everything else is built on.  Learning should be a process that not only makes us feel more confident in ourselves, but promotes a better understanding and mutual respect for other learners.

rose glasses

Some of you may be asking, “Can optimism really be taught in the classroom?”  I believe it can. Keep in mind one of the real differences in an optimistic person and a pessimistic person is how they view failure. Pessimists see failure as being personal and permanent, where as an optimist sees failure as temporary, non-personal and specific.  All students experience early in their learning a sense of failure. It may be answering a question wrong, writing a paper that didn’t quite meet the expectations of the instructor, or perhaps due to a learning disability, every lesson becomes a bit of a struggle to completed. A student should never see a single failure as a permanent indication of their ability to learn.  As in counseling, reframing a student’s perception of a failed learning event can be a reinforcing moment, providing some kind of understanding that the answers will come.

Another interesting fact is that using humor in the classroom actually can promote higher levels of activity in the brain.  Brain scans have measured considerable high level activity when humor is used in listening and learning. Also, memory seems to get a boost when learning and humor are combined.  Perhaps a simple technique can be to just bringing a smile to the class.  Making students feel more comfortable can make a considerable impact on a student’s willingness to learn. We all had teachers we can remember that we didn’t particularly like because they were so dry and boring. Most likely they had a dry affect and delivered their lecture without any emotion or enthusiasm, and probably never smiled. It wasn’t the material being taught that was problematic, but having to spend an hour or more in a classroom where the flat affect of the instructor’s delivery made learning uneventful and sometimes painful. Someone once said, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.”

optimism (1)

Bringing optimism in the classroom benefits not only students, but the instructors as well.  In creating a supportive learning environment, we support students in developing not only stronger cognitive skills, but we also meet the emotional needs as well.  We should be including in our lectures, stories of optimism that have made a difference in the human condition. This in itself can change a student’s perception of themselves and their own ability in promoting change in their world.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
Helen Keller

Question Everything… I Dare You

question-everything (1)Until several decades ago, most teachers thought that teaching simply involved filling a student’s head with information. Knowledge was ‘transmitted’ from an authority (the teacher) to a learner (despite the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture-based teaching has been known for quite some time), generally by lecture. This thinking and practice are firmly entrenched in most classrooms despite the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture only teaching can be very ineffective.                                                                                      Modern cognitive psychology tells us that learning is a constructive, not receptive, process. This theory of learning (constructivism) holds that understanding comes through experiences and interaction with the environment, and that the learner uses a foundation of previous knowledge to construct new understanding. Consequently, the learner has primary responsibility for constructing knowledge and understanding, not the teacher. In a constructivist classroom, the teacher is no longer the “authority” but instead is a guide or facilitator who assists students in learning in spite of the fact that the ineffectiveness of lecture-based teaching has been known for quite some time.


The following was an email I received from a student this week which made me think about the notion of learning.


Professor Buffo,

“I wanted to ask this question because it is very important to me. What I want to know from you is “what is the ‘one’ thing you really want students to learn from you?” I do mean this seriously. What is the most significant thing you wish or want for me to learn from you? I’m getting overly curious.”                                                                                                       Thanks for taking the time,                                                                                        (student’s name)

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I found this to be an interesting and valid question. What do we want our students to learn and if there is one significant thing you want your students leave your class with, what is it?                                                                                                                                         This was my response:

Dear _______, your question is well taken and much appreciated. It implies that you may have some questions regarding the final destination of class. Questions are good and voicing them even better.

First of all, let me say that learning is a process not a product. The experience of gaining knowledge or a skill really becomes a subjective experience. In other words, how I learn can be very different than how you learn.  That’s not to say I learn better or you learn better, just different. So one of the things I really would like you to learn is just that, we are both sharing the same journey, but may experience it in very different ways.  My role is to provide you information you may require depending where your journey may take you. It’s like me inviting you to a buffet table and telling you to help yourself, get what you want, take what you need, it may come in handy in reaching your destination.                                     So what do I want students to learn from me?

  • To keep asking questions
  • Be curious
  • Be mindful
  • Remain divergent in your thinking
  • Never be afraid to challenge someone else’s thinking
  • And always be open to change, for I believe change is the end result of all learning.

Thank you for your question and the opportunity to respond.                                             Regards,                                                                                                                               Sal Buffo