What is the most important element of effective teaching? What comes to mind as you ponder this question? I’ve been thinking about this question for 30 years and have come to realize that the answer is relationships!

Relationships play a central role in the educational experience. Relationships between teachers and their students. Relationships between students and their classmates. Relationships between students and lesson content. Relationships between lesson content and real life.

Some say that relationships in education are not important, that it distracts from learning. But Cristina Nehring says in her article Higher Yearning that, “to say that relationship distracts from learning is like saying color distracts from seeing.” Relationships energize classrooms, breathe life into lessons, and deepen the learning experience. Relationships create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging.

Relationships are the heart of our massage family and it all began with a teacher. I want to talk a little about our massage family because I love to talk…  about family.

Our massage family is made up of a large diverse group of people. We have no dress code, no secret handshake, no special chant. We are one big family of many hands and one shared love – the love of people – the love of humanity. And we express that love with massage therapy. Coming to conventions is like going to family reunions. One of the many reasons I support organizations such as AMTA and the Alliance is because they use a family model as part of their business philosophy.

It does not matter if you do Swedish massage, sports massage, shiatsu, or reiki; all methods have the same shared goal — to help people feel better. To make the inaccessible “accessible.”
My massage parents were my first teachers. They are dear to my heart and are Patricia, Donald, Carol, Robert, and Charles. It was through them that I fell in love with massage therapy and fell in love with learning. When I stand front of a class, I feel their presence. Their words come right out of my mouth. Their blood runs through my veins.
Good afternoon and welcome to the most important day of the conference. Why? Because everyone is here because of a teacher. Today we honor teachers and celebrate the roles they have had in our lives.

I want to thank the AMTA School Awards Committee for making the day possible and for recognizing outstanding teachers. This committee is made up of 4 members and includes Cindy Fararr, Adrienne Asta, Linda Toomey, and Kate Zulaski.

Congratulations Tracie Livermore for your dedication to massage education and your for love of teaching. And thank you to the previous award winners. [APPLAUSE]

Massage is my family, I had wonderful massage parents. Truth be told… I was their difficult child.

I struggled with homework and deadlines, stayed up late caring for a young child instead of studying — yes, I was a single parent.

I struggled with tests. I had holes in my educational background — yes I was a high school dropout. I sat in that classroom and thought “I am the dumbest person in this room.” Thank goodness I had loving massage parents who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. They valued relationships. I was able to graduate only because they let me do “extra credit” work because I was failing anatomy.

Several years after graduation, I was homesick. I missed my massage parents and decided to surround myself with new family and started to teach. Teaching took me on a wonderful magical journey. This is where I married Mike Breaux, the most amazing man I ever met. It was also this time I met my massage sister Carrie Chaumont and her husband Alex. It was Carrie and Alex who nominated me for this award. Thank you Michael, Carrie, and Alex for your love, friendship, and for taking massage therapy and massage education into the future. I love you guys!

There is no better feeling than being with family. In the tradition of family gatherings, I’m going to tell you a family secret – I mean family recipe. How to make a great teacher.

Because if you want a great education, you must have great teachers.

The first ingredient is “Connection.” This brings us back to the relationships.

We know that making a connection with students provides the best possible learning environment.

Listen to students – really listen. Not just to their words but to the meaning behind their words.

Because if you want to access their minds you must first access their hearts.

Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, talks about listening or “hearing people to speech.” Students want to find their voices, to speak their voices, to have their voices heard. A good teacher listens to those voices even before they are spoken—so that someday they can speak with truth and with confidence.

We must also be willing to take risks, to be vulnerable, and to share our own stories. Sharing is how we make connections. I know there is talk about not getting too close to students. But the reality is, this is how we change the world – by making connections. Dianne Polseno knew this. Dianne said “We are changing the world, one massage at a time.” Massage therapy is about making connections.

Connection is not enough, you must have a lesson plan. We know from research that when given a choice, students prefer structured lessons. Your lesson plans are the framework for the information you give them. Part of effective teaching is being organized.

I was trying to think of a “family member” equivalent or the kind of teacher I mean. Then it came to me, it’s a “grandparent.”

Think about the role of grandparents. My Grandmother always had a plan, she let me explore her home and yard, and I discovered something new each time I was with her. She let me ask tons of questions and made time to answer them, she told stories, she accepted me for who I was, but did not put up with a lot of shenanigans. She kept her finger in the water – testing it. She knew when to push the accelerator and when to tap the brakes.

Being organized and having a lesson plan is not enough – you must also be passionate.

Passion for teaching and learning must be evident to students. Learning is about heading out into the unknown with a sense of reckless abandon and wanderlust. Effective teachers cultivate students who are passionately curious and don’t mind having their preconceptions nudged. Give them an insatiable curiosity so that, after they leave your classroom, they will never want to stop learning.

Be an instigator. Effective teachers are instigators of the highest order.
Passion has a side effect. It’s inspiration. It’s the final ingredient. This is the icing on the cake.
Connected, organized, and passionate teachers inspire students.

We are there to say, “I believe in you!”

We are there to say, “Yes you can!”

“I can’t learn all these muscles and bones.”

Yes you can!

“I can’t pass this test.”

Yes you can!

We represent possibility. We make the inaccessible – accessible!

Believe in students and in their ability to think for themselves.

Be connected, organized, passionate, and inspiring.

Take care of yourself, embrace spirituality, and see the potential in every student.

We shape the future of massage therapy. We are in the trenches with students giving them knowledge and skills. Initiating them into the family circle. We are the “change agent.” We are teaching therapists to change the world, one massage at a time. Thank you, Dianne.

Dr. Susan Salvo’s Acceptance Speech for the Dianne Polseno Lifetime Achievement Award for educational excellence given during the teacher’s luncheon at the AMTA National Convention 2014 in Denver, CO.