Strategy: Using Journals to Build Authentic Relationships

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There are a multitude of relationship-building activities teachers can use to foster authentic relationships with students of all ages. The important thing to stress is how important it is to engage in these activities often and especially during the beginning of the year, after breaks, and when students seem disengaged. Journaling with young students gives them the opportunity to express their feelings, likes and dislikes, and activities they engage in outside of school. Journaling with older students allows a safe space for them to discuss likes, dislikes, or even concerns that they may not feel comfortable otherwise discussing.
The purpose of journaling with students is to show interest in their lives at home and at school. Showing you genuinely care about your students outside of school helps to build strong, positive, and authentic relationships. This type of attention is called “noncontingent,” meaning that you provide the attention without any particular reason for doing so other than to show your respect and interest for the students in your classroom.
How Journaling Connects to CARES
Using journal entries to learn more about your students is just one of many strategies that can be used to help build authentic relationships with your students. Providing students with open-ended prompts or with time to write about a topic of their choosing can help you learn more about your students’ lives, likes, dislikes, and more. Authentic relationships are key in creating a positive classroom climate and improving students’ connection to your classroom and promote more productive classroom behavior.
Some key elements for effectively using journals to build authentic relationships with students:
1) It is important to be genuinely interested in getting to know the interests of your students and their families and to support their needs and choices.
2) It is also important to be culturally responsive to students and their families. Being responsive to cultural differences without using stereotypes is vital when honoring student differences. A child who is living with a single working mother or a Black student who was followed around a store by a mall security guard over the weekend may have needs for extra support that come out in the journals, but not necessarily. Being aware of potential needs and then getting to know students through their writing is very important.
3) It is important to respond positively to what students write about in their journals, as this is a way to show interest. Interviewing students about journaling entries is another important way to effectively use journals.

How To

How to Use Journaling to Build Relationships

There are many different ways journals can be used.

1) Give the students a specific topic of interest to write about:

  • For late 1st grade-5th grade, have students in your classroom write about specific topics.
  • For younger students, encourage students to draw pictures about topics or activities.

If you want to know more about what your students do at home, then you can assign students to write about what they did over the weekend and then read and respond to the journal on Monday.


  • What did you do this weekend?
  • What was your favorite part of your weekend?
  • What will you be when you grow up?
  • What are your favorite things to do at school?
You might keep journals in your classroom and have your students write three things they are looking forward to doing that day and/or have them write (or draw for young students) about three things they liked about the day prior to dismissal.

2) Meet with each student to “interview” them about their journal and ask follow-up questions.


  • I see you went shopping with your mom. What did you help her find?
  • I see you went to the park. What did you do there?
  • I see you had a playdate with Abby. What did you do together?

Example Journal Entry and Dialog:

Using Journals To Build Relationships - Example Journal Entry

Kennedy, this is a great journal entry. It looks like you went to the park and had fun. Who did you go with?

I went with my mom and dad. My mom went down the slide with me.

What was the best part?

My dad helped me on the monkey bars. I almost made it across.

Have you been working on making it across the monkey bars? I see you practicing at recess. You are getting really good.

Strategy Tool

Using Journals to Build Authentic Relationships - Strategy Tool
Use the Journaling in my Classroom strategy tool to get started using journals with your students.


Using Journals to Build Authentic Relationships - Reflection
Take a moment to think about how you can use journals in your classroom with your students.

Goal Setting

Using Journals to Build Authentic Relationships - Goal Setting
Come up with a plan for using journals in your classroom.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Ronroy, M., Sutherland, K., Haydon, T., Stormont, M., & Harmon, J. (2009). Preventing and ameliorating young children’s chronic problem behaviors: An ecological classroom-based approach. Psychology in the Schools, 46, 3-17.

Dalton, J., & Watson, M. (1997). Among friends: Classrooms where caring and learning prevail. Oakland, CA: Developmental Studies Center.

Jones, V. F., & Jones, L. S. (2001). Comprehensive classroom management: Creating communities of support and solving problems. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Lehr, C. A., & Christenson, S. L. (2002). Best practices in promoting a positive school climate. In A. Thomas & G. Grimes (Eds.). Best practices in school psychology IV Vol. 1 (pp. 929-948). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Pianta, R. C. (1999). Enhancing relationships between children and teachers: School psychology book series. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Stormont, M. (2007). Fostering resilience in young children at risk for failure: Strategies for K-3. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Using Journals to Build Relationships

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview