purple flowers

Creative Teaching

 My Creativity Makes Me a Better Teacher

Years ago I read a book titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum, basic life lessons that talked about doing the right thing, celebrating life, being kind to one another and yourself. Recently I realized that my quest to be a better line dancer and potter help me to be a better Oncology Massage Trainer and those same traits that I read so long ago still work for me to this day.

1. Be respectful- Line dance teachers come from many parts of the country and have diverse educational backgrounds. Some are self-taught, some danced for years in school and others even dance professionally. Likewise pottery teachers too have diverse backgrounds. Both groups are able to connect with their students by sharing their creative gifts. What they know and how they teach is their marketing skill. They both love what they do, want to share their experience and pass on their gifts.

2. Be Nice- unkind words about another teacher have a way of taking on a life of their own. Think before you speak.

3. Creativity enables you to do your best always and spread the joy of creating.

4. Constructive Criticism is necessary to achieve your best.

I want to maintain a similar attitude in teaching oncology massage therapy. Teaching oncology massage makes me aware that there are very specific adaptations for patients in treatment, but many ways to teach in a “do no harm” class setting. There are many teachers who believe their objectives/agendas/ time frames are the best way and I can respect the differences. Oncology Trainers come from various backgrounds as well. Many had other careers before they became massage therapists, and they use those skills to help with communication, marketing and nursing and CNA standards of care.  Most importantly, we are NOT social workers, NOT dietician, NOT their physician that can help them make decisions about their care.  Any communication between the patient and massage therapist that involves being out of our scope of practice is consider unethical.

There are different opinions regarding the need for certification for OMT and at this time, there is no governing body assigned to oversee this specialty. This can cause confusion for both massage therapists and the public.

In my practice, I rely on my many years of clinical experience and strive to find work for my students.  My class involves understanding cancer, cancer treatment, side effects from these treatments, massage modifications, emotional issue for patients and caregivers, lymphedema risk and prevention and of course healing arts.

My passion for my profession mandates that I give my all, teach everything that I have learned in 17 years of working in two major cancer centers. Conferences, physicians’ talks, educational dinners have been my classroom, the people I have met along the way have been my mentors.

There is limited research on oncology massage, but focusing on research massage for anxiety and the percentage of patients that report high levels of anxiety is a good place to start. How massage may quiet the mind and offer moments of tranquility is an exciting topic for me. The frontal lobe regulates decision-making, emotions and movement, while the parietal lobe is where letters and words combine into thoughts, according to the National Institute of Health, while, the temporal lobe is associated with memory and learning.  Don’t get me started on the amygdala, the ever present detector of danger, even when there is none.  Quieting the mind in the cancer center is what I do best.  I like to imagine that as I massage their head I am offering a reprieve from thoughts and emotions that create stress. So many other aspects of oncology massage are important in my curriculum, but it has become my quest to teach the significance of comfort in quieting the mind through massage.

Creating a fast pace, cohesive class that caters to small groups serves many purposes. Two days covers all the important topics, lots of time to share stories and work with patients during the clinical hours. Evaluations tell me that the students appreciate the value of the class, less time away from their work and the level of education they have received meets and exceeds their expectation from an introductory program.  Not to mention having a “mentor for life” as one student proclaimed.

I know I have set the foundation but if they choose, I always recommend going further with more training. My goal is to have students immediately feel comfortable to work with their clients and family members who are in treatment for cancer or survivors with no evidence of disease.  My focus is less on marketing and more on giving the best class I can so that my students leave with a great experience and share with others how the two day training worked so well for them.  I believe that reviews of my class are my best marketing tool and here are a few comments-

“As an former educator of a nationally accredited massage school and seven year hospice CNA, I appreciated the passion and expertise of Mrs. Muirhead along with her respect for massage therapists.  Her presentation of the course material was rich with life experience and obvious love for the oncology patients for which she has humbly served. The course content was delivered both professionally and concisely with time for questions from the class. Mrs. Muirhead kept control of the class and timeline. She was thorough and gave great information backed by research. She also provided much more references for those of us who wished to further educate ourselves regarding oncology and cancer treatments. The classroom was in a very nice facility that included a priceless opportunity to work with oncology patients actively receiving treatment. I felt a genuine respect and trust from Mrs. Muirhead during that time which I believe was also felt by my classmates. She was very professional, particular and intentional regarding the interaction with the oncology patients while building confidence among the therapists during the hands on sessions. I would encourage any professional to take the NCTMB approved course from Mrs. Muirhead. I certainly will take any additional courses offered by her. I have personally thanked Toni Muirhead for her tireless efforts to serve the oncology community with excellence and to bring more credibility to my profession of massage therapy”. – Jody Phillips

“Well, I would say that you take a personal interest in the therapist’s training, like working 1 on 1. You make sure they feel comfortable and have enough knowledge to be confident in what they can & can not do. You want to relay a sense of dignity & presence while working.”