Holly Valentine | June 2019

Increasing Communication with Personal Art Journals

When I first began teaching, I so clearly remember being told that it was crucial to maintain regular communication with parents. This included newsletters, emails, and returned homework assignments among other things. It got to the point that I remember thinking I was teaching parents and giving them feedback more than I was my students. That was when my view on communication changed, and I never looked back.

Within my literacy block, as so many teachers do, I had a reader’s notebook. In it, one section was dedicated to weekly letters from the kids. In these letters, they were to write about their reading, how it was going and what they were struggling with. I would write back to them and the notebooks became a quiet, insightful written dialogue between myself and each student.


As we got more comfortable with doing this – or I should say I got more comfortable and wasn’t trying to make each student appear to be perfect in my responses back to them – these letters began to morph into so much more than a reading discussion. Students opened up about everything and anything – events both in and out of school. And I started to see them so much more individually, and gain so much insight into these little souls in front of me.

The communication was real and authentic. It was breaking down the teacher-student barrier and increasing the connection between myself and each student. I began to know each student so well, academically and personally, that when problems did arise, I felt like I really knew each student and what made them tick. I was often finding myself being able to address struggles before they got too big, or to understand what was at the root of them.

This has gotten me to thinking about how interesting it could be to maintain a weekly journal with the kids that combined not only writing but sketchnoting, the arts, perhaps even music and how that could tap in to even more of the inner thinking of my students. 


How do we teach kids to communicate: Let them practice! How do we teach kids to be creative? Let them practice! Why not combine it all into one?!

How would this work?

  • Start with a blank notebook – unlined!
    • So many kids have a hard time breaking away from the traditional linear notebooks, and as a result, struggle with looking at a blank page. Let them be inspired, and attack a weekly entry from any direction – how will they layout their thinking and ideas? What format will it take? It could be a combination of mediums and no right way to approach the entry.
  • Encourage color!
    • The use of and choice of color could add so much to the entry. It’s no secret that color choices often align to moods. Think of how insightful this could be to getting to know your students. You would learn how to connect outside events and emotions with what they are expressing through their journal.
  • Provide creative prompts

What a wonderful memory this could be for you and each of your students by the end of the year, tracing through art the journey through your time together. In order to increase communication and facilitate that relationship between the two of you, it is important that the journal would become a place for you both to share. You will each find ways to add creativity and to comment on the work the other person is doing. Ideally, the journal will become a combination of art and writing, a natural flow of ideas.


There are so many variations on this weekly journal idea, and how it can be structured. Some further reading, a few adaptations and different kinds to consider:

About the Author

Holly Valentine is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam. Prior to joining the Institute, Holly worked as an Arts Integration and Classroom Teacher for 20 years in a suburb of Rochester, NY. She is a certified Arts Integration Specialist and has served as an Arts Standards Writer for the New York State Education Department. Holly has been a recipient of the NYC Broadway League's Apple Award for her work in Arts Education. She also serves as the Director of Education for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, where she has created nationally recognized programs and develops standards-based curriculum for touring Broadway shows in order to bring the theatre to classrooms and classrooms to the theatre. Holly holds both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Psychology as well as a Masters degree in Education from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY,  where she currently lives.