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Mar 11, 2021 |

Note: Leila Kubesch is a teacher at Norwood City Schools in Cincinnati and was named the 2020 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year by Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). Her accomplishments as a teacher include making home visits, building a school library, advocating for youth and immigrants living in foster care, founding a nonprofit organization, and much more. As many schools return to in-person learning this spring, Ms. Kubesch describes how the power of partnerships can lead to better outcomes for all. This is her first blog in a series on returning to school during the pandemic.

For a long time, I mused about creating a pathway for school partnerships that included families, educators, and even other school districts. What would it be like to collectively address a challenge we face?

I thought about this more during the lockdown. As additional budget cuts were made to schools that had little to begin with, and educators were tasked with doing more with even less, disparity in high-needs communities grew. I remember making phone calls to guardians at the beginning of the pandemic, imploring them to get their children to attend virtual classes. One mom sobbed inconsolably—only just then realizing that her child had been skipping virtual school while she continued to work double shifts even as the world was mostly shutting down. Creating supportive partnerships with guardians like her became among the initiatives I aspired to achieve.

The process of collaborating for us teachers is often foreign; instead we attempt to be everyone for our students to fill the voids they experience. We take on more roles and pile on our hats, serving as a friend, parent, advocate, coach, mentor, social worker, and anything else that comes along the way. Imagine if physicians told us they, too, wear many hats and took on all the roles of custodian, nurse, coach, cook, and finally doctor. We wouldn’t deem them the right person for our health. Likewise, teachers trying to be everything for everyone during the pandemic is not good for their intellect and worse for their own well-being.

There were times when I reached out to other educators to collaborate on an idea or to share my grant funds but found the timing did not work. I can achieve a lot on my own and that’s what many of us do, but my vision now is different. There is power in partnerships, and now more than ever I find that two heads are better than one. This year as we returned to in-person teaching, I was mindful that my students came back to the classroom with more emotional and academic needs, and teachers cannot best address everything alone.

The reality of this came to me when a 9th grader had a meltdown in my classroom. She had no idea why she felt distraught and could not articulate how she could be helped. We hugged, even though we had no idea what the other looked like through their mask. I called on my colleague, a school counselor, who took over to give his attention to her needs. I was able to return to those waiting in my class to give them my attention. The ideal scenario is where we all bring our expertise to do our best. I followed up by contacting her guardian to share ways we could offer support to each other and to their child, a conversation that was insightful, empowering, and impactful.

Great outcomes do not occur in isolation, and as more districts open their doors for in-person instruction, they need to support teachers by fostering a collaborative mindset. My resolve to work with others elevated my spirit and brought me greater optimism, making my in-person teaching more positive. I found myself feeling grateful, joyful, and hopeful.

“What are you on?” I was asked. I am on a mission to develop partnerships and on a journey to cultivate relationships.

Through enlisting partnerships and working together, we can do more and perform our work better. Our students are returning with more social-emotional needs. There is a lot of work ahead to try to equitably close the learning loss gap from last year without also attempting to do it all alone.

Stay tuned as I share my pursuit of exploring new ways of outreach and forming meaningful partnerships through this series. Together, may we arrive at insights that allow us to thrive as educators and lead to the success of our students.

Leila Kubesch is named the 2020 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website