Cleaning Cody’s Notebook – Creating Connections

September 28, 2023

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.  –Dr. Brene Brown

I offer the above quote as inspiration for teachers. As a special education teacher, I strived for—although often didn’t attain—that connection with my students. It is helpful, though, to remember that opportunities for that connection with our students happen inside and outside the classroom. We just need to be open.

As a way to celebrate the launch of my new book, Sick Day Jitters, the ninth book in the Jitters series, The Wandering Jellyfish invited me to write a guest post for this month’s Education Newsletter. As luck would have it, this month is also LD and ADHD awareness month. While trying to find something to write about, I reviewed some of my old teaching journals and remembered Cody, a likable seventh grader diagnosed with ADHD.

It was two months into the school year, and Cody was behind. I had him stay late to catch up on the pile of missing work that had accumulated over several weeks.  He came in with a 3-ring binder that looked like an over-filled recycling bin. Papers were sticking out every which way. The front cover was held in place by a slim strand of vinyl, and I supposed, a hope and a prayer.

Seeing Cody’s binder, I guessed that at least some of those missing assignments might be stowed away in the mess. Unfortunately, I knew it would take a 2-man archeological dig to find anything buried in that jumble of papers.

Instead of having Cody start on missing work, I sat down with him, and together, we sorted through the mess, shared a snack, and talked.  About sports.  About school.  About why his notebook was such a mess.

“Is your bedroom this messy?” I asked.

“Yes,” he admitted.

I dared him to show me his locker.  He refused saying it would be bad for my health.  I told him I appreciated his thoughtfulness.

Not unexpectedly, as we sorted, we found more than a few of Cody’s missing assignments. Several were even done.  A few needed just a little work to complete, and he did them right then.

An hour later, Cody had to leave to catch the school’s late bus.  He walked out with a new binder and a plan as to how he would complete the rest of his missing assignments.  Most importantly, he left feeling good about himself, knowing he conquered a problem that had been weighing on him.  He felt accepted, respected, and appreciated.

I left school buoyed by Cody’s progress. I already knew his work completion issues were part of his ADHD diagnosis. Not a motivation issue but an organizational one. I also knew that often, the most important step in helping a student succeed is making that first connection, and I felt our little work session had done that.  I enjoyed getting to know Cody on a personal level.

Such a simple fix, with so many positive results.

Another way to help our ADHD and LD students feel seen is to provide them with books that have a main character dealing with and overcoming the same difficulties as they are.  To help them understand that their “disability” is not necessarily a weakness, just a difference. It may even help that student to reevaluate their own translation of that difference and, in the process, grow self-awareness, self-acceptance, and maybe even self-love.  

In honor of LD and ADHD awareness month, here are a few places to begin searching for books with ADHD and LD characters or written by LD or ADHD authors:

13 Books Featuring Characters With Learning Disabilities (

Books Featuring Characters With Dyslexia and ADHD | Percy Jackson and More (

5 Incredible Fictional Characters With ADHD (+4 Who Are Undiagnosed But Also Totally Have It) (

We Need Diverse Books –

About the Author:

I am now retired but had a long career as an elementary SPED teacher and later, taught middle school Language Arts. Reading to my students inspired me to begin writing and being around kids all day gave me LOTS of ideas! Sometimes I even made…I mean asked…my students to read my stories and give me suggestions for improvement. I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction picture books, chapter books and books for the educational market. My classroom experience informed my writing, and my writing informed my teaching. I feel lucky to have spent time in both worlds.

On the Sick Day Jitters page, I have two links to lesson plans that are also posted on my blog

SICK DAY JITTERS Lesson Plan: Building School Wide Community – Julie Danneberg

SICK DAY JITTERS Lesson Plan: How to Handle Change – Julie Danneberg

Click here to learn more about Julie, her books, and her SCHOOL VISIT offereings!