By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
Nine people every day.
Nine people get the same graphic from me via text message at some point in the morning.
A handful of people get to see actual letters that I played.
I’m talking about Wordle.
Per the New York Times, the game was created by Josh Wardle, a software engineer from Brooklyn, initially developed for him and his partner in 2021. As a play on his own last name, he called it Wordle and, initially, he shared it only with his partner, but then expanded to his family’s WhatsApp group. He released it to the world on Nov. 1, 2021, when 90 people played it. Statista said it went from the 90 to around 300,000 in January of 2022 (according to the NYT) and gained over 2 million players a week later.
I’m not here to tell you about the numbers around Wordle. I’m here to tell you that I love playing it. But I love sharing it with these nine people more.
It’s a way to make and maintain connections with friends and family. I share with My Wife, our oldest son, as well as my mother and step-father-in-law. I share with a dear friend who spoke at our wedding, one of our groomsmen, and a former coaching colleague. Finally, I have a text chain with two former colleagues from a school in Chicago where we met.
Yes, we share our shaded Wordle results daily. I started sharing my results (taking a screenshot) with my former coaching colleague first. During one of our exchanges, he wrote, “Let’s make this like fourth-grade math where we show our work.” I need to point out that he’s not a teacher because that is something an educator would say, and it made me laugh out loud.
But this is so much more than a five-letter game where you have six chances to get it right. It’s a way to maintain daily connections with people, some of whom don’t live close and I don’t see as often as I want to. It’s led to laugh-out-loud moments (see above), ridiculous GIFs (when someone gets it in one or two tries), and words of consolation when you get the dreaded X/6. This means you did not get the Wordle in six tries, and your streak is broken.
And yet, it’s a place to share pictures of grandchildren, as one of my former colleagues from Chicago did when his daughter had her first baby. It’s a way to check in with my mother-in-law in the days after she had to send their dog over the rainbow bridge. It’s how I can needle a friend who is an Orioles fan, even though they’re making the playoffs this year, and my beloved Yankees are battling the Red Sox for last place in the American League East.
I can keep a daily connection with Our Son without being intrusive. I can get an update on a U6 soccer league in Los Angeles, from our friend whose son is playing for the first time. I can ask about how my stepfather’s mom is doing while complaining about the validity of the Wordle word of the day.
Yes, I can do all this through a text or a phone call. Often, I do follow up with a phone call to hear the voices of the people I play with. We make the time and the effort to see the out-of-state friends I play with whenever possible. Wordle makes our world smaller and closer while trying to keep our streaks and our friendships intact.
It’s a life lesson about relationships. They need to be nurtured, maintained, and cultivated. There’s no recipe that guarantees success, but a daily check-in after playing a word game, sprinkled with updates, questions, love, and empathy, ensures that those on the other end of the text chain know they matter to me beyond the games we play.
This is how I want our students to feel. I want them to know that they matter. They can come to East Greenwich Public Schools exactly the way they are. No conditions have to be met for us to be our best professional selves for our students. Our job is to ensure that every student feels safe, welcomed, and included when they come to school so they can learn and grow to the best of their abilities. It’s not about their test scores, homework completion, athletic prowess, or extra-curricular participation. Our students matter when they walk through our doors. Period.
Not surprisingly, my first word is always TEACH. So, when I share my shaded letters, people can get a glimpse of how I did and try to shape their guesses based on mine. I’ve had my streak broken twice in the past two months. It’s always the words that have plenty of options, and I cannot guess the last letter correctly.
My relationships with family and friends, though, are safely ensconced, thanks in part to our daily Wordle interactions.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.