educators’ podcast: ‘mr. clark’s big band’ teaches how to help students with loss

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The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.

Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”

You can listen to the podcast by:

Image credit: Cool Cat Teacher.

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‘big band’ book wins publishing award

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room has won a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The group–which received over 4,500 entries for this year’s contest–honored Mr. Clark’s Big Band with a bronze medal in its Education: Commentary/Theory category.

“This year’s winners represent books from 41 U.S. states, Guam, and DC; 6 Canadian provinces; and 12 countries overseas,” the Independent Publisher group said in a press release.

Ironically, the silver award winner in my category is Joseph E. Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and president of the university where I teach. Two Northeastern University educators in one category. Not too shabby!

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band is also a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Award, in the Education category.

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Image credits: Independent Publisher Book Awards and Foreword INDIES.

signing sneakers & arms at a massachusetts middle school

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

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Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.

2017 indies book of the year finalist: ‘mr. clark’s big band’

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band is among the finalists in the Adult Nonfiction-Education category in Foreword Reviews’ 2017 Indies Book of the Year Awards.

“More than 2,000 entries spread across 68 genres were submitted for consideration,” Foreword Reviews’ press release said. “The list of finalists was determined by Foreword’s editorial team. Winners are now being decided by a panel of judges across the country, reflecting Foreword’s readership of booksellers and librarians.”

Winners will be announced in June.

Image credit: Foreword Reviews.

looking for signed copies of ‘mr. clark’s big band’?

Looking for signed copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band? There are several available right now at Stax Discount Books, 193A Boston Post Road West, Marlborough, MA.

I spent part of Saturday afternoon signing books at Stax and chatting with the charming owners Stacey and Mike. Love me an independent bookstore!

Image credits: Stax Discount Bookstore.

southborough’s middle school celebrates ‘mr. clark’s big band’

book launch band.jpgParents, educators, students and friends converged on the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. on Sunday to celebrate the publication of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Trottier School Principal Keith Lavoie emceed the event, introducing me before I read several excerpts from the book–specifically a segment about members of the 2012-2013 Big Band debating, during a January 2013 rehearsal, which would curdle one’s stomach more: eating boneless chicken-in-a-can or “gas station sushi.” I also read excerpts including one which describes a student triumphing over her fears in order to play a solo, knowing that Mr. Clark had her back, and another about the pre-performance jitters that occur when band members learn that their lead trumpet player is heading to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy an hour before showtime.

book launch jamie meredithAfter thanking the nearly 150 people who crowded the cafeteria decorated with sunflowers, sheet music and enlarged copies of the book cover, Trottier music teacher Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark, see pictured on the left) led the current members of the Big Band in several pieces including Paul Clark’s swinging “A Band’s Gotta Do What a Band’s Gotta Do” and Doug Beach’s sassy “Late Night Diner.”

Big Band alumni, including many students who were profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band and are now in high school–therefore they towered over their middle school counterparts, joined the group for the hard-charging final number, “Groovin’ Hard,” the chart made famous by drummer Buddy Rich.

Suzy Green–Eric Green’s mother–was on hand, as were the Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Christine Johnson, former Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Charles Gobron and Mass. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema.

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Trottier Principal Keith Lavoie looks on as I read from Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

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Jamie Clark speaks in front of his current Big Band

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Clark surprises me by pulling me up in front of the band after they finish “Groovin’ Hard.”

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Clark, Suzy Green and me celebrate the joyousness that is the Big Band.

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Clark is a world-class bear-hugger.

Image credits: Sharon Shoemaker

bloggers publish essay about mr. clark’s risk-taking, big-hearted teaching style

A number of blogs have published an essay I wrote about the advantages of having your child in a classroom taught by someone who takes risks, who puts his or her emotions out in the open, who is willing to give the students what they really need.

updated-header-november-2016Bernetta Style: This blog ran the article under the title, “Your Child’s Teacher May be Doing Right by Giving Students What They Want.”

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TwinMom: This site featured the piece which also highlights how school officials at a Southborough, Massachusetts middle school ditched their concerns about precedent in order to provide students the support they craved.

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Books By T. Smith:  This blog also published the essay whose main point can be summarized by these two lines:

To the children at Trottier Middle School, breaking down the emotional barriers between student and teacher–which many faculty doggedly maintain as a badge of professionalism, not worrying about precedent-setting in order to tend to the emotional needs of its students was just what these children needed to emerge on the other side of grief. What I learned by watching this school for a year: sometimes you need to set the rules aside and give the students what they need.

frugalmom.jpgReading with Frugal Mom: The Frugal Mom published this piece on its Reading with Frugal Mom website and promoted it on its Adventures with Frugal Mom Twitter account. Thank you!!

Image credits: BernettaStyle website, TwinMom website, Books By T. Smith, and Reading with Frugal Mom