Tip #8 from Kara is Be Approachable.
I have a severe, almost terminal case of “Angry Face.” It is actually something real, though just a warning, the street name for it is a bit more vulgar. To show you how real it is, here is a snippet from a Wikipedia page dedicated to it:
a facial expression that unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any particular emotion.Source
It is something that is so universal that there are entire meme threads dedicated to it. Here are a couple of my favorites:
It is something that has plagued me since high school. I remember fellow classmates coming up to me and asking if everything was okay or why I was mad. The ironic part is that I wasn’t mad until they asked me about it, because I was sick and tired of being asked.
It didn’t seem to become a serious problem until I became a teacher. Then I was in front of students all day and they perceived my face as a clue to how I was doing. After my first year of teaching, I received some really clear feedback that “I must hate my job because I don’t look like I want to be here.” That really bothered me because it wasn’t true. It ate at me all summer and I knew I needed to do something about it.
This is a slide from my first day of class introduction. I found that if I discussed it up front with each class, it went better for me in the long term. They at least had a small idea of my angry face and knew that I loved my job and really wanted to be there, even if my face didn’t look like it. And constant interactions with classes throughout the semester helped them to get to know me and my personality. For better or for worse.
There were many times that a student I had in class would just explain to another student that “oh that’s Mr. Hudnall, he just looks angry.”
It actually became a bit of a running joke among our FBLA and DECA groups. My FBLA officers took it so far as to create an entire bulletin board background of it.
But they didn’t stop there, they hid them ALL over my room. I was finding them for months. I think I got most of the copies down, but I did leave this one up because I thought it was clever.
A student brought me a Christmas gift one year and it was the Many Faces of Grumpy Cat. They thought they were so funny…
One of my few skills is associated with my scowl is the ability to keep a straight face. No matter what. And with the face I’ve been blessed with, it looks like a rather stern face. I have challenged hundreds of kids to a straight face contest and have never lost. Ever. There were times when I would challenge a particularly giggly student in my class and say that if they beat me the entire class could be let out 30 minutes early. I somewhat hedged my bet because they were already giggly, but the class really got into it because they wanted to get out early. The giggly student never won. Or if I was feeling particularly smug, I would challenge the entire class. Still never lost.
It may be because I grew up in Provo, but I have been compared to the legendary scowl of Lavell Edwards. As a football coach for a D-1 football team, the scowl may have served him well. But I find my scowl as an administrator is only useful in a few situations. Mainly when a student has done something dumb and I can give them the “look” and they know right away to knock it off.
Now I hope the few people actually reading this far aren’t getting the impression that I enjoy having an angry face. I actually dislike it, a lot. I might even go so far as to say I hate it. A fear I had starting as an administrator is that I will not have the opportunity for the students to get to know me as well as they did when I was a teacher and they will only see me walking down the halls with a scowl. I have made a conscious effort as I walk around the school to not look like I’m scowling. But a fake smile doesn’t seem genuine, and it hurts my cheeks after a while. I have learned that I need to have a smile, but use it in a genuine way.
Late last year I visited every English class and actually introduced myself and had a free-for-all Q&A with them. I would ask them if they ever saw me walking down the hall with a mad face and most of them would raise their hand. So I ended by explaining that if they see me walking ”angrily” down the hall, I’m actually not angry, my relaxed face just looks mad.
What do you do to be approachable? Let me know in the comments below.