Reflecting on reflecting

Samuel Freedman reflects on “reflection,” a popular education buzzword, in the New York Times. (I can’t access NY Times stories any more on Firefox, my preferred browser, but the link will work on other browsers.)

Education students learn how to be reflective teachers in education school. Then, in their own classrooms, they ask their students to write reflections on what they have read. After class, the teachers do reflections on their own lessons. Principals, administrators, other staff members — all are increasingly urged or even required to engage in reflection.

“Reflection” means “thinking about what you’re doing.” But it’s never that simple in the world of educators.

By making every teacher and student the unchallenged arbiter of his or her own achievement, reflection dovetails neatly with progressive education’s preference for process over content and with the confessional, therapeutic strain of American culture.

“ ‘Reflection’ is a loosey-goosey term that sounds deep enough to be acceptable for the image that ed schools want to convey,” said Sandra Stotsky, an education consultant who formerly served as deputy education commissioner in Massachusetts. “It’s a substitute for real good, useful, hard words that used to be prevalent in talking about teacher’s work — critique, evaluation, analysis,” she said. “ ‘Evaluation’ sounds like there are actually some criteria involved. Whereas if you ‘reflect,’ it sounds psychologically deep and relativistic.”

Educators need their own “Dilbert” to puncture inflated jargon, Freedman writes.

About Joanne


  1. Your Dilbert comment is dead on! How funny would *that* be?! (At least to our fellow teachers) Too bad I’m sarcastic, not witty.

  2. Another buzzword to bandy about. I always laughed when our former principal used “dialogue” as a verb instead of just saying, “talk about it.” has an interesting array of daffynishuns for current edubabble terms at

  3. Oops! Let’s try that link again.

  4. In just about all of my ed. masters classes, some sort of “reflection” paper had to be written at one point of time or another. Especially in that “cultural diversity” class, natch.

  5. Our new, young principal has discovered “professional learning communities” and “collaboration”.

    So what is the first thing he does? He breaks up all of the school’s teaching partnerships, some of which went back for a decade.

  6. Bill Woods says:

    “(I can’t access NY Times stories any more on Firefox, my preferred browser, but the link will work on other browsers.)”

    The link works for me, using Firefox on Mac OS X.IV.VII.

  7. Gahrie..I just referenced your anecdote in this post.

  8. If anyone around me started using “reflection” as a content-free buzzword, I would point out that it cannot occur until there has been flection. Fortunately, in my line of work (the radio link between a mobile phone and the cell site) things either work or they don’t, and you can’t talk your way around it.

  9. Triticale,
    there could always be deflection first. 🙂