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Reflection Journals: A Powerful Tool To Connect With Your Students

As Mother Nature continues to dump copious amounts of snow on us up here in Boston, I am sitting by the fire taking part in one of my favorite weekend rituals:  Reading Reflection Journals!

What is a Reflection Journal? Well, it may be the single most useful tool I use in my classroom!

Setting Up For Success

On the first day of school, I show students a stack of journals.  What you say next is critical to making the whole thing work! Here's my usual spiel:

"When there are over twenty children in a classroom, it can be hard for you to feel like you get to have my attention as often as you would like to.  Sometimes, you want to tell me something, but I am busy working with a small group.  Sometimes, you want to ask me a question, but you don't want to ask it in front of the whole class.  Sometimes, what you need to tell me feels to hard to say out loud, so you keep it to yourself.  Well, these journals are a great way to have some one-on-one time with me.  I will write back to you EVERY week.  I like to think of these journals as our own private conversation.

You can write to me about ANYTHING you want.  Tell me anything that you think I should know.  Tell me about what excites you.  Tell me about what bothers you.  Tell me about what is hard for you. Tell me about what you are proud of.  Tell me about what you do after school and on the weekends.  Tell me about a problem you're having.  Tell me about your friendships.  Ask me questions.  Let me get to know you, and if you want, get to know me.

These are private conversations.  I will not show these to your grown-ups.  They are not for anyone's eyes but yours and mine.  These journals are a safe place.  Nothing you write will hurt my feelings.  I want you to be honest and I want you to feel comfortable telling me anything.  I love you, and nothing you write will change that."

Making It A Classroom Routine

I leave 40 minutes open every Friday afternoon for Reflection Journals.  (When I taught first grade, I started with 10 minutes at the beginning of the year and slowly built up to 30 minutes by the end of the year.)  I pass back their journals with my responses inside.  I leave privacy boards/partitions out, because some students want to ensure  that their writing stays between us. They take the first few minutes reading my messages to them, and reviewing their previous journal entry.  

I play music throughout the day, but I have let the students create a Reflection Journal Playlist.  Of course I had to approve their choices, but the music seems to relax them and let the words flow out of them.  While they write, I write in my own journal too.  I think it's important that they see their teachers writing.  I like them to know that I value writing as a form of expression, and that I write for pleasure.

After the 40 minutes are up, I ask students to finish their final thoughts and then place the journals in a plastic bag by the door of our classroom.  This way, I don't have to dig them out of their desks at the end of the day!  Also, having them by the door is a sure way that I won't forget them!

I make sure to read ALL of their journals over the weekend! I surely don't always have time to write back over the weekend (Sometimes I actually do like to leave school at school!)  However, reading them all only takes about 15-20 minutes, so I can often do that before I even leave for the day.  Why do I make such an effort to read them over the weekend? Often, they write to me about problems they are having (both social and academic) that are best dealt with in a timely manner.  Sometimes, they share things that will be going on over the weekend that make for great conversation starters on Monday morning.
  • How was your soccer game against the Eagles?
  • Did you do anything special for your mom's birthday?  Did she love your present?
  • What was your favorite part of the movie?  Was it similar to the book?
  • Did your goggles fall off during the swim meet this time?
  • What did you do with your cousins when they came to visit?  
Over the course of the week, I try and write back to a few every day.  Sometimes life gets in the way, and I don't get to them until Thursday night.  However, a nice glass of wine, a fire, and some beautiful felt tip pens create the perfect environment for a little writing.

{My dining room table is taken over by journals! Colorful pens are a great motivator!}

I pass the journals out the next day, and the cycle starts all over again!

Expect a Variety!

Whether I was teaching first grade or third grade, there is always a wide range of what these journal entries will look like.  For the first few months in first grade, many of my students drew pictures of what they wanted to share and labeled their drawings.  Others were able to write complete sentences, or even several sentences at a time.  

In third grade, the variety is more in the content, but there is still a range of writing abilities.  Each student uses the journals for what they need most.  A lot of my students use it as a way to fill me in on the details of their home life.  For example, this student wanted to let me know that her father, who still lives in Korea to support their family, was coming to visit!

Some need a way to connect with you every week, and have found it!  This kiddo writes to me every week about the Patriots!  Nobody in his family is a football fan, so he likes to chat about stats, great plays and how much he looks up to them.  The Patriots have become our special connection, and it means a lot to both of us! 

Some students share their anxieties about upcoming events, or give me updates on events that have passed.  Talking about nerves out loud can be tough… it's hard enough to be nervous, let alone talk about it.  However, writing about it seems to be easier.  The embarrassment and uneasiness seems to lift, and they are able to share their feelings.

There are students who use journaling as a way to share their successes!  This kiddo had been struggling with multiplication, but had an "AH HA!" moment that she wanted to share.  We now have a permanent record of when the concept "clicked" for her!

Often, students will ask for advice about how to navigate social conflicts.  They may be looking for the best way to apologize to a friend, how to not feel threatened by a new friend in their social circle, or struggling with feeling different.  Their reflection journals are a safe place to ask for this kind of help, and feel like someone is really listening to them.

Every once in a while, they just want to share their ideas with you.  Inventions that they have created, suggestions for you to improve your teaching, or things that are working for them in the classroom.

And sometimes, they just want to love you and see if they can make you smile.

How To Respond

The only rule that I have for how I respond is to be truthful.  I write to them like I would write to any of my friends or family members.  I am honest, I don't sugar coat things, and I don't hesitate to tell them how much I love them.  

I use reflection journals as an opportunity to guide them, help them recognize their strengths, and build their confidence.  I will admit there there are times when I refer them back to their parents.  There are topics where I feel it isn't my place to provide guidance, for example:

However, most of the time, I feel I can be delicate enough, and respond honestly without interfering with a family's personal beliefs or decisions.

No matter the grade I teach, Reflection Journals will ALWAYS be an essential part of my weekly routine.  It serves as a consistent reminder of what it is like to be a child trying to navigate the social and academic world around them.  It is through our conversations that they guide me to be the best teacher I can be for each and every one of them!


  1. This is a fabulous idea! I can see how much the kids open up about what's going on in their world which can allow us as educators to better reach them. Will definitely have to do this next year!

    Swinging for Success

    1. That's it exactly! It's a little window into their world, and it makes SUCH A DIFFERENCE! Good luck with implementing reflection journals next year, and please let me know how it goes :)

  2. I love this post! I'm sure your students love their reflection journals.
    Fun In First

    1. Thank you so much Jodi! I don't know who loves them more… me or my students :) I am a huge fan of your blog, so I am honored to have you stop by!

  3. I love this!! Especially all the student examples :) Thanks so much for sharing!!

    1. I'm so glad you found the examples helpful! It's truly my favorite weekend ritual :)

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