The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education held its second Annual Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 18-20. It was an enthusiastic and collaborative event attended by 125 participants from all facets of the massage education sector, including school directors, teachers, continuing education providers, and leaders of stakeholder organizations. This represented a 50-percent increase in attendance from the AFMTE inaugural meeting held in 2010.

With a theme of “Bringing Teaching to the Next Level”, the conference brought a specific focus to the need for establishing standards for teacher training in the massage therapy field. The opening keynote presentation by Tracy Ortelli explored the challenges involved in “Creating a Culture of Teaching Excellence” and the many benefits it can bring. As a renowned educator and organizational leader from the nursing profession, she brought an important perspective from her discipline – which was in dialogue for more than 100 years before deciding in 2005 to adopt competency standards for faculty who teach in nursing programs. Ortelli suggested to those present at the Alliance meeting that it was up to the massage education community to take this crucial step on its own behalf. She also pointed out, “You certainly don’t have to wait as long as we did!”

Building on this theme, the Professional Standards Committee presented an overview of the National Teacher Education Standards Project. Closely tied to the AFMTE mission, this is a long-term effort intended to strengthen and improve the quality of massage therapy education. The project’s initial phase – development of the Core Competencies for Massage Therapy Teachers – was a focal point of the conference. As this document is the first of its kind in the massage therapy field, it outlines the foundational knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSAs) needed for teachers to produce successful and consistent outcomes with adult learners in a variety of educational settings.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to provide direct input on the first draft of the Core Competencies in a half-day discussion forum. School directors, teachers and CE providers met in three concurrent sessions to share their perspectives and concerns about the standards, which were reported back to the full assembly. This high-level feedback will be used by AFMTE in the next stage of revisions before a second draft of the document is put out for public comment later this year.

The conference also included a forum to gather input on a forthcoming project that will create a new national approval process for continuing education courses and providers. As announced earlier this year, AFMTE will be partnering with the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB) to develop these standards. In support of this effort, FSMTB Executive Director Debra Persinger facilitated a session in Charleston that invited CE providers (and other interested people) to share their experiences with existing approval processes in the field, and to provide ideas about what they would like to see in a new national process.

Along with the focus on standards, there was a wealth of other presentations that gave conference participants specific information and tools to use in their professional roles. Dr. Ben Benjamin led a keynote session on the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction, a leading-edge communications approach. Jan Schwartz inspired the group to reach beyond the borders of the massage therapy field in her keynote on The Role of Massage Education in Complementary Health Care. In addition, the breakout workshops included:

• Strategies to Improve Learning Environments with Anne Williams

• What Educators Need to Know about Government Relations with Sally Hacking & Pete Whitridge

• Understanding the New USDE Program Integrity Rules with Dr. Tony Mirando & Demara Stamler

• Instructional Design for Inspired Learning with Cherie Sohnen-Moe & Iris Burman

• Creative Marketing Ideas and Powerful Lead Follow-up Strategies for Your School with Lex Filipowski

• Developing Competency-based Assessments to Evaluate Student Performance

with Jan Schwartz

• Ethical Issues in Massage Education with Nancy Dail

Videos of the keynote presentations by Tracy Ortelli and Ben Benjamin are posted to YouTube, with links available from the Conference page of the AFMTE website.

All in all, this was truly a gathering that was greater than the sum of its parts. The experience was best expressed in the words shared by some of the attendees: Gloria Coppola, a teacher of traditional Hawaiian massage observed: “It was truly the most cohesive and collaborative event of colleagues in my 25-year massage career! Thank you all so much for this event and for this organization. The future of massage education is in the hands of many well-respected and talented individuals. I am honored to be a part of this process and group.”

Noted teacher and author Laura Allen commented in her recent blog: “It was an excellent gathering from start to finish. Whether you are a school owner, program director, CE provider, or industry support partner, AFMTE is going to accomplish great things for the advancement of massage therapy education. This is an opportunity to have a voice and a partnership in many resources to support that goal, and I encourage my colleagues not to pass it by.”

Maria Schick teaches massage therapy at a career college, and had this to say about the meeting: “Thank you for an intense, educational and enjoyable three days. I am in awe of the “sweat equity” already invested in AFMTE and can only hope that I will have something worthwhile to add through my membership.”

Massage school owner and respected author Sandy Fritz shared: “I was pleased to be a part of this conference. It is gatherings like this with free exchange of information among peers that encourage me. There has been a lot of work done behind the scenes and that really came through at the meeting.”

Finally, therapist and CE provider Kathleen Gramzay gave this insightful perspective: “I anticipated that this would be a quality conference, but it far exceeded that expectation. This gathering was a unique combination of high-level professionalism, passion and vision for the future of massage therapy in term of Real World Relevancy. For me, it was humbling and inspiring to participate in this goal with so many mentors, teachers and authors I have long admired and from whom I continue to learn. It was also very satisfying to bring home new skills that I know will improve me as an educator today. I am encouraged that AFMTE – in its leadership and members – has the integrity, heart and fortitude to lead the way. I am honored and grateful to be in such outstanding company.”

As AFMTE approaches the second anniversary of its launch, this successful conference is a powerful affirmation that the organization has built a solid foundation. With the active support and participation of the massage education community, AFMTE will be able to carry out its mission for the benefit of all those who teach across the diverse spectrum of massage, bodywork and somatic therapies, and all who benefit downstream from that teaching.

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About AFMTE:

The Alliance for Massage Therapy Education is the voice, advocate and resource for the community of massage therapy schools and educators. It serves the entire education sector from entry-level training programs through post-graduate studies. The National Headquarters is located at 1760 Old Meadow Road, Suite 500, McLean, Virginia 22102. The phone number is 703-506-2888, and the general office email address is

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