I was worried. Really worried.
How could I teach effectively online, where I couldn’t see my students’ faces? How would we connect as a group if we were scattered so widely?
Would online sessions ever feel like a living classroom? The warm kind of classroom, with padded seats and honest conversations and a beating heart? Or would it all feel cold, distant, and sterile?
Would the technology fail, leaving everyone mute and aggravated?
And, deep down, the most important question of all…
What if all the students hate the course?
I was worried about that, too.
The object of all this concern was the first run of an online master class, the Oncology Massage Therapy Advanced Mentorship course. I had never taught in that exact format, with everyone’s voices on the line, partner exercises, and connecting through a forum.
So, since we had never done it, we did it. Last Spring, we launched the program for the first time.
It filled in 10 days, with some of the most dedicated MTs I have ever met.
In March, we gathered to say “hi” for the first time during a technology check, singing the ABCs to test out our headsets. Then we were off on a 7-session adventure, spread out over about 11 weeks.
We traveled together.
At first there were a few bumps, but we fixed them and kept going. Those who were new to headsets, webinars, and social media learned quickly, and soon the technology served us, instead of the other way around. We were road-worthy.
The first leg of our journey took us through some complex client scenarios, and some massage principles that made things simpler. Everyone wrote an outcome-oriented massage care plan for the first time, and crafted a letter to a client’s doctor to accompany it. We plumbed some depths of common client presentations and how to adapt massage.
Planting Ourselves in the Circle of Care
On the next leg of the journey, we turned our attention to outreach and marketing. We studied the elements that would plant us more firmly in each client’s circle of care. We looked closely at the problems that can be addressed by oncology massage, and how to find the people who need our care. We heard and practiced a short but sweet slide presentation on oncology massage.
During this middle third of the course, we looked at the research on massage and cancer, and chose some of the best research to share with other health care professionals. We wrote sample introduction letters to oncology professionals, including as social workers and nurse navigators.
At this point, Allissa Haines of Writing a Blue Streak joined us. She taught the nuts and bolts of online marketing, and everyone put together pieces of their own plan over the following weeks, with her support and individual attention.
The Last Leg—The Journey Inside
Finally, we turned our attention to each individual’s inner landscape. We looked at some of the larger questions that come up for us in oncology massage: How do we avoid compassion fatigue? Who do we become when we are in pain? How are our beliefs about health and illness challenged or reinforced by being with people with cancer? How do we say goodbye when we need to, and, for that matter, how do we say hello?
We even practiced setting fees with clients, sometimes hard conversations when clients are ill or suffering. We looked at other sticking points, and some of the things that cause us pain when we are in the service of others. We looked at where to find strength when it is needed, to navigate overwhelming feelings and challenging situations.
We found wisdom in each others’ insights and stories. Some of us found healing in the wholeness of the group.
Throughout our journey together, we clarified the vision of each person’s practice, and the support and steps to get there. People took many of those steps during the program. Since the close of the course, they’ve remained a group, continuing to post challenges and achievements to the group’s cheers and encouragement.
Over the course of the program, I experienced a number of pleasant surprises.
– A deep community was created, both online and offline. Support came from strangers, who became colleagues. Friendships began to form. Nope, neither cold, nor sterile.
– Far from the empty silence and hollow monotone I’d feared, there were many interactions, possibly even more than if we’d been in a face to face classroom. During class, conversations, voices, images, opinions, and chat box comments all whirred away. Around the edges of class, posts on the forum, phone calls, and emails kept us connected.
– Overall, the course was warmly and enthusiastically received. There were rave reviews. It wasn’t flawless–some people wanted more of something, or more of everything (as is often the case when a good thing is going on). But the overwhelming experience was glowing, far from the mutiny I’d feared.
– Online marketing could be fun, inexpensive, and manageable, with the right person (Allissa) helping people through it.
– A wry sense of humor helps a lot when things get hard. So does a great affection for oneself.
– Students put in huge time and effort. They drank deeply from each lesson that was offered. They threw themselves into the work of moving their work forward, and made enormous strides.
As for me, I threw myself into it as well, feeling how much it all mattered. The success of each practitioner became my concern as well as theirs. I planned each lesson, each task, and each one-on-one session for that larger goal. “Are they getting what they need?” “Are they going where they need to go?” “Are we ready for the next step?”
Throughout all this worry, I reassured myself with Simon Gray’s words: “Worry is just love in its worst form. But it’s still love.”
It’s still love.
This learning experience reminded me of love. It reminded me how much I love the work of oncology massage, and the practitioners providing it. I love the exchange of skilled touch. I love watching remarkable people move that work out into the world where it is so badly needed.
I was reminded, too, of how much I love teaching. Headset or no headset, no matter where, whom, or how. I love this, I told myself, because I did.
And somewhere along the way, I stopped worrying.
(Fall registration is now open for the next round of the Oncology Massage Therapy Advanced Mentorship program. If you are interested, visit the course page, and email us any questions through the page. The course may fill quickly.)