Dr. Kelly Anthony, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, admits that when she first started teaching, she was concerned about her teaching style because it wasn’t what she saw from her contemporaries. She thought her focus on encouraging students to be good citizens of the university and wider community meant that she wasn’t as rigorous as her colleagues. However many years later, with rave reviews from former students and teaching awards under her belt, Dr. Anthony’s methods are clearly resonating.

“So many of us care about our students and we want to find ways to lighten their burden and be there for  them,” she says. “I always encourage students to reach out when they need to, or when they just need a trusted adult to listen.  Her style is more than lending an ear though. Dr. Anthony goes out of her way to minimize the traditional power-differential between professor and student and let her students know they’re all on the same team. “I ask students ‘What makes this a strong and safe place for you?’”, she tells us, and then she figures out what her students need to have that experience in her class room. “If you want students to take risks, you first need a safe environment. I want to support them in taking intellectual risks and consider it part of their mark,” she elaborates.

She takes student conversations in class and tries to find ways to make immediate and active connections. For example, a recent student discussion about a mental health awareness day, led Dr. Anthony to wonder how she could continue the positivity beyond that one day. “I announced to the class that on Monday I would be at the classroom 20 minutes before to welcome students with a hug, high-five, smile, eye contact, whatever they chose. That day I ‘high-fived’ or hugged 195 students to my class and I could see an immediate positive impact of students coming in with smiles on their faces.”

Dr. Anthony’s approach is not just focused on student ‘s classroom experience, “I encourage students to realize we’re all part of a bigger community.” This means working to expand the way that students view the world, which Dr. Anthony considers to be essential for being an effective and compassionate human being. As part of their learning, Dr. Anthony takes their students out of the classroom and into the community to engage with both professionals and those with lived-experiences of/with the social determinants discussed in class.

“I challenge them in their privilege and security as students and immerse them in parts of our community where people  are much further from opportunities,” Dr. Anthony tell us. She encourages them to practice humility, gratitude, and to find ways to actively contribute to the community. She firmly believes that her students will find much richer lives and careers if they actively engage with their community.

Dr. Anthony is hopeful because she’s starting to find more and more like-minded people on campus. “As more of us see students as active partners in the learning process, with their own agency, choice, and control over the world, the better off we all are.”

Dr. Anthony’s story is one of many University of Waterloo community members who are finding new and interesting ways to foster wellness on campus. To learn more about how you can be involved in initiatives that aim to increase wellness in our community or read other inspiring stories, visit the Healthy Waterloo Collaborative website.