To Whom It May Concern

wp-1587120790701.jpgWe’re in our fourth week of remote learning after schools were closed for COVID-19. Thinking back to last month, I am still amazed by what we accomplished in three days: all teachers learned how to create Google Classrooms, film themselves teaching, and run videoconferencing “office hours” with students.  We created a plan for a reasonable student workload.  We distributed over 260 Chromebooks to students in one day, and created a “Student Connectivity Team” to help any families that struggled with internet access.

On our first day of remote learning, I was completely immersed in setting up our systems.  So when I got this email, it took me by surprise:

To whom it may concern,

The yearbook committee is well aware of the hard work you are putting into creating a system that could work during this epidemic. However, we still need your personal message for the class of 2020. Please email me your message by March 25.

Thank you

Yearbook Committee Representative

The “Yearbook Committee Representative” is a high school senior named Gabriela,* which I knew because the message came from her email. I was late with my yearbook message—in preparing for school closing, it had completely slipped my mind.

However, I was struck by the formal tone of Gabriela’s email given her warm personality.  In school, she had delivered the same message in person, smiling.

I responded to her email:

Dear Gabriela,

I’m sorry for the delay, and hope you and your family are doing OK!

Thanks for the reminder and the extended deadline.  While I know I’m late, I am actually happy that I’ve waited until now to submit a message, because the message I would have sent 2 weeks ago would now be nearly irrelevant. Your class will go down in history because there have never been circumstances like this pandemic, and I want the message to reflect that.

By the way, I love your formal tone but since we know each other very well, you can address it “Dear Ms. Nariman” and sign it “Gabriela Morones, Yearbook Committee Representative.”  Nice work!

Thank you,

Ms. Nariman

Here’s the email I received back:

Dear Ms. Nariman,

My family and I are doing well, thank you for asking. There is no rush and you have until the deadline to submit your message.

Thank you once again,

Gabriela Morones, Yearbook Committee Representative

Our email exchange was a learning opportunity for both of us, and opened up my eyes to the possibilities of online learning.  In school, Gabriela probably would have reminded me in person, and it would have been lovely.  But limited to email, she had the chance to put her thoughts in writing, try out some new language, and vary her tone in two different messages.

Now, in our fourth week of remote learning, teachers are reporting students are becoming more attentive to their writing, and we’re seeing improvements in punctuation, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and tone.  There is a lot of talk about “learning loss” in remote learning, and it’s true that there are major challenges.  But we are also seeing some real gains.

In the end, both of Gabriela’s emails inspired me: the first, to get going and write, and the second, to express my love for the Class of 2020, which I’ll share in a future blog post.

*The names of students have been changed.  

Photo credit: Julie Nariman

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