EDUP106 Phase 2, Task D2

Now read:

Fendler, L. 2003. Teacher Reflection in a hall of mirrors Historical Influences and Political Reverberations. Educational Researcher, 32 (1996), pp.16–25.

Are we so busy developing approaches to critical reflection that we haven’t stopped to critique the concept itself? Why? Who? For what end?

p16: Critiques of teacher reflection:

  • reflective practices have not helped advance teachers’ roles in schools.  Zeichner argues that improvement will not occur unless teachers are supported and respected contributors to school reform programs
  • the degree to which reflective practices serve to reinforce existing beliefs rather than challenge assumptions.
  • reflective practices tend to provide instrumental analyses of teaching and ignore issues of social justice

p17: This article joins previous critiques of reflection in the assertion that research and practices of reflection have had consequences that tend to thwart reform.

p17: Genealogy and the sociology of scientific knowledge help to illuminate aspects of reflection that have not been made apparent from other critical perspectives.

p17ff: historicizing the concept of reflection:

  • the epistemological foundations of Cartesian rationality,
    • when teachers are asked to reflect on their practices, the Cartesian assumption is that self-awareness will provide knowledge and understanding about teaching.
  • the appropriation of Dewey’s works as authoritative for education,
    • U.S. teacher education literature in general tends to treat Dewey as an icon, so references to Dewey are usually of the authoritative type; research on reflection is no exception.
    • Cartesian reflection is an enactment of self-awareness. In contrast, Dewey’s reflective thinking was meant to replace appetites and impulses with scientifically rational choices.
  • the value of Schön’s professionalism for teachers,
    • Schön’s work was enthusiastically embraced in U.S. teacher education literature as a way to raise social status by bestowing on teaching the characteristics of professionalism
    • Schön’s book emphasizes the value of uncertainty as a desirable aspect of professional reflective practice
    • These days the meaning of professional reflection is riddled with tensions between Schön’s notion of practitioner-based intuition, on the one hand, and Dewey’s notion of rational and scientific thinking, on the other hand. 
  • the currency of feminist anti-establishment critiques.
    • cultural feminism takes the position that established research methods privilege “masculinist” ways of thinking (Gmelch, 1998).

p20: Today’s discourse of reflection incorporates an array of meanings: a demonstration of self consciousness, a scientific approach to planning for the future, a tacit and intuitive understanding of practice, a discipline to become more professional, a way to tap into one’s authentic inner voice, a means to become a more effective teacher, and a strategy to redress injustices in society.

p21: Reflection that is purely instrumental or technical, without explicit attention to issues of social justice, is denounced by some critical theorists.

  • instrumental and social reconstructionist (or critical) reflection come from opposite sides of a political spectrum—one from the Right and the other from the Left.
  • some social reconstructionist reflective practices are tied closely to critical traditions whose standards of political correctness may be based on Marxian notions of oppression and domination in society.

p22: Devices of Reflection for Teachers:

  • Journals
    • When journal writing is seen in historical relation to Christian confessional practices, it becomes possible to question the normalizing and disciplinary effects of journal writing.
  • Autobiographies
    • [Brookfield’s] simultaneous skepticism and support for autobiography constitutes reflection as a complex form of normalization in discourses of education.

p23: an array of historical influences has contributed to complex meanings for reflection, and that common practices of reflection (journal writing and autobiographical narratives) may have unintended and undesirable political effects.

p23:The case of teacher reflection provides an example of the need for educational researchers to examine their assumptions about the relationship between research and teacher education. All research has unintended consequences.

Foucault’s (1979/1991) analytic of power as governmentality is useful for thinking about the politics of reflection, namely that historically specific power relations construct what it is possible to think.

  • Teacher reflection can function as a disciplinary technology whose purpose may be obscure or unrecognized because ways of thinking are subject to and produced by social practices of discipline and normalization.
  • When reflection is understood as a turning back upon the self, the danger is that reflection will reveal no more than what is already known.


Fendler offers a critique of reflective practice and provides an interesting challenge to many currently accepted assumptions. The efficacy and appropriateness of the emphasis on reflective practice is questioned and Fendler highlights several key issues.

 What are the contrasts between what Brookfield and Fendler assert?

What impact have these readings had on your own thoughts regarding critical reflection and professional learning?

How might you promote more genuine critical reflection among colleagues within your school/college?

Write a short blog entry (no more than 250 words) answering the above questions and post on the blog entitled ‘Critical Reflection’ on Canvas.

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