Michelle French

Michelle French is an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine at U of T. 

1. In the nomination, the student describes that you are very helpful when it comes to the course material. The student also states that you engage them in lectures by using enthusiasm. Could you tell us a bit more about your approach to teaching and your perspective on the traits necessary for establishing an excellent teacher-student connection.

To me, conveying enthusiasm is a key element of great teaching, because it fosters student interest. I am constantly trying new teaching approaches to help my students develop the knowledge and skills for future success. This includes coaching students on study strategies based on research on how people learn. I also work hard to build a sense of community both in the classroom and beyond, because this gives students a sense of belonging and motivates them to learn.

2. Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus and how it can be integrated into the physiology and the sciences setting?

I strongly believe that engaging in regular physical exercise is one of the best ways to enhance learning, promote health and sleep, and manage stress. While the benefits of exercise are well documented, surprisingly, only 38% of post-secondary students in Ontario report meeting public health recommendations for weekly exercise.1

I was keen to help bring the benefits of exercise to my students, and partnered with MoveU to accomplish this goal by creating a running program. We are thrilled with the success of the program, and I think my students were especially motivated to participate because at the same time they were learning about the function of the heart, lungs and blood in class. To me, our running initiative brings physiology to life.

3. In the nomination, the student states that you, lead initiatives in regards to, positive mental health. Furthermore, the student states that you, provide an inclusive curriculum and pedagogy. Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?  

I have benefited both personally and professionally through running and engaging in other types of aerobic activity over the past twenty years. A key to my sustained commitment has been exercising with others. On a run, for example, I discuss with my running buddy our day-to-day lives, and we keep each other motivated.

I would like all U of T students to acquire a life-long exercise habit because I believe it will help them lead happier and more productive lives. Indeed student participants in our running program report that exercise helps them deal with stress, and the program gave them the opportunity to connect more with fellow students. I am honoured to be recognized by one of my students with this Health Campus Champion nomination.

4. We would also be interested to know if you have any suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of students?

I think that all members of the university community should engage in physical exercise, to the best of their ability, and should encourage others to do the same. The MoveU organization is an excellent point of contact to accomplish these goals. It took only one email from me and MoveU representatives sprang into action – organizing our running program, recruiting student volunteers and helping me advertise the program. Initiatives that promote physical activity help build healthy communities on campus and beyond. All it takes is a single first step.

1 ACHA-National College Health Assessment II 2016 report from the Ontario Reference Group