5 lessons from Wordle that will improve your school leadership

The power of simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

The simplicity of Wordle is sexy.

No leader boards.

No notifications.

No app for your phone.

No ads, pop ups, or any other annoying feature.

Wordle is designed on a simple black backdrop.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

In business, we often thing about a MVP — minimum viable product.

Thinking “What is our minimum viable product?” means that you can’t over analyze.

Designing a MVP also means you move fast and take action.

Schools, especially at the system level, move soooooo slow.

And by the time educators act, it’s too late.

Drop the bells and whistles for whatever program you are rolling out and design for simplicity and speed. You can always iterate later!

Tell people when they are on the right path

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

-Dr. Seuss

One feature I really enjoy in Wordle is that it tells you when you are getting closer to the solution.

If the letter tile stays grey, the letter isn’t used in the word.

Yellow means the right letter, but wrong placement.

Green letter means the correct letter and placement.

I love this feature so much because it communicates when I am on (or off) the right path.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

Commit to removing any “gotcha” elements from your leadership tool belt.

People want to know two things from you:

  • Am I doing a good job?
  • Does my boss like me?

Often educators have to guess both of those answers.

Why?

Tell people what you think of them.

Another idea you might consider really paid off for one leader I know in a central office position.

Paige decided to do things a little bit differently when it comes to the interview process.

Her big idea was to send the questions in advance.

The interview panel was in shock.

(They incorrectly believed they had given away their power)

But what happened next was super interesting.

The applicants that prepared really showed off what they could do.

And yup… one applicant was obviously underprepared.

The result: the school district made their best principal hire in as long as they could remember.

Feedback is a powerful thing. You’ll never be disappointed when you set people up for success and they meet the challenge.

Constraints are beautiful

“By making a constraint beautiful, we mean seeing it as an opportunity, not a punitive restriction, and using it as stimulus to see a new or better way of achieving our ambition.”

-Adam Morgan and Mark Barden

The constraints of Wordle are always the same:

  • One puzzle per day
  • Guesses must be a real word
  • Words are always five letters

And within those constraints is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in years.

But not everyone sees constraints as a good thing.

Some people see challenges, obstacles, and constraints as bad things.

Constraints are the mother of invention and when embraced, can lead to breakthrough.

For example, Random House once bet Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) that he couldn’t write a book with just 50 words.

The result was Green Eggs and Ham, which uses 49 words with one syllable and the word anywhere.

How is that for turning a challenge into an opportunity?!?

Imagine if Dr. Seuss played the role of a victim?

Instead, Green Eggs and Ham became the best selling Dr. Seuss book ever.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

Your students aren’t reading at the appropriate age level?

Great, what an opportunity for growth!

Your staff is make up of mostly first year teachers?

Fantastic, they haven’t formed any bad habits and are eager to learn!

See constraints as an opportunity and the path forward.

Keep the streak alive!

In Wordle, I find it very motivating that I started playing eleven days ago. So far I am 11-for-11 when it comes to solving the day’s Wordle.

I DO NOT want to break the streak.

And that reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to being funny.

When asked how one becomes funny, Seinfeld replied, “Don’t break the chain.”

As legend has it, Jerry challenges himself to write jokes every single day.

When he did, he’d write a big X through that day on the calendar.

After a while, his calendar was filled with day after day of Xs.

Multiple Xs in a row represented a chain, a streak, that Jerry did not want to break.

The Xs also represented Jerry consistently showing up. Putting in the work. No matter how he felt on a given day.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

Streaks are helpful and motivating.

They generate momentum.

One principal I coach and mentor wants to grow in candor.

So he practices everyday.

He keeps score and doesn’t break the streak.

Whatever skill or area you are working on measure your performance.

You either do it or you don’t. Give yourself an X if you worked on the skill for the day.

And don’t break the streak.

Don’t interrupt people unless you want to be an annoying leader.

“If you are constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done. It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work. And the reason is interruptions.”

-Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

A design choice I LOVE in Wordle is that there are NO notifications. Praise the Lord!!!

I play only when I choose to play.

And Yes, I am addicted right now so I choose to play each day.

Do you want to know the secret of being more productive and creating even more value for your school?

Turn your notifications off!

A study done by Microsoft showed that emails and IM distracted workers from serious mental tasks and took an average of 15 minutes to get back on task.

A 2005 productivity study found that 28% of a professional’s time spent on interruptions and recovery. That is like wasting 11 / 40 hours per week on interruptions and recovery!

If you take your hourly wage and multiply that by 11 hours that is a lot of money to waste.

The only reason notifications exist is to keep you connected to your device …

To open that game or app …

So the developer can sell your data for money to their sponsors.

That will not make you an effective school leader.

Notifications work because they interrupt us from our normal day-to-day and move humans from the real to virtual world.

Too many leaders complain about not having enough time, but I guarantee if you didn’t own a cell phone or have email you wouldn’t know what to do with all the time you had.

Think about that.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

Wordle works because it is built in the idea of enrollment.

The user is there because they chose to be there. It was an intentional action.

How would you approach your leadership if everything at your school was optional and faculty had to choose to participate?

Talk about a design challenge!

One reason the masterminds we offer at Better Leaders Better Schools work so well is because no one is forced to be there.

Something magical happens when people choose to engage rather than being told they will engage or else …

Design with humans at the center

Education is a service based business with humans at the center.

Or it should be.

Wordle was created by Josh Wardle for his partner, Palak Shah.

The game was created to be something fun to play during the pandemic and built on Palak’s love for word games.

Wordle was a love letter with Palak at the center.

So what does this mean for school leaders?

Design with your hearts full of compassion and with humans at the center.

Never forget that your choices impact individuals.

Students and staff are not a number on a spreadsheet. They are people with hopes and fears, dreams and challenges.

If you work was going to be viewed as your “love letter” to education, what would you create?

That is the opportunity in front of you!

Ready to level up?

In a few days, I am running my popular FREE BEST YEAR EVER 5-day challenge.

Join today!

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Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀

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Daniel Bauer

Daniel Bauer

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀