Putting Teachers Front and Center in a Statewide Literacy Campaign

In the last several years, the impressive work of education journalists and researchers has brought to light a disturbing reality: The dominant approach to reading instruction in the U.S. is, at best, insufficient, and at worst, setting many students up for failure. Although there is clear evidence about what it takes to teach children to read, an evidence-based approach to reading instruction is not reflected in most American classrooms.

Some states, including Massachusetts, are tackling this challenge head-on. The Hatcher Group was proud recently to support the launch of a statewide, collaborative effort by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Boston-based Rennie Center to promote evidence-based reading instruction in grades PreK-3.

The effort, known as Mass Literacy, aims to equip educators in the state with the resources, support, and guidance they need to help all children grow into strong readers and writers. More broadly, the effort positions the state agency as a leader in the field and signals to policymakers, advocates, and families its renewed commitment to improving literacy in Massachusetts.

Hatcher led the communications and public outreach work for Mass Literacy. In close collaboration with DESE and the Rennie Center, Hatcher developed a communications strategy, messaging and branding, and a host of digital assets for the DESE website and social media channels. We also filmed a compelling video featuring educators and researchers and helped write and place an op-ed in a statewide publication.

Because educators are the primary audience for the effort, Hatcher was strategic in putting teachers front and center as the campaign’s messengers. We included educators in every step of the communications and outreach process. Before developing the messaging, we conducted interviews with elementary school teachers to learn more about their views on reading instruction and who they look to for trusted information. The Rennie Center and DESE were pivotal in connecting Hatcher with a wide swath of educators and stakeholder groups.

From there, we developed a name for the effort as well as a full suite of messages to spread the word about Mass Literacy. Because of the heated rhetoric that has at times characterized the “reading wars,” it was critical to develop strong, positive, and forward-looking messages for the effort. Based on our conservations with educators, we created a set of aspirational, values-based messages that would resonate with teachers and policymakers alike. The messaging emphasized shared values like equity and opportunity to make the case for Mass Literacy. As it became clear that schools would remain virtual during the fall semester, we also incorporated language to speak to the current reality facing educators and students.

With a strong foundation set, Hatcher conducted and filmed interviews with educators from across the state in what culminated in a compelling promotional video introducing the initiative. While interviews were initially planned to occur in person, Hatcher’s video team (now adept at remote recording) quickly adjusted its plans, mailing film kits to participants and patiently walking them through technical challenges.Ahead of DESE’s official announcement of Mass Literacy, Hatcher worked with two Massachusetts educators to develop and place an op-ed introducing the effort and connecting it to ongoing discussions around race and equity. In Massachusetts, 24% of Black students and 25% of Hispanic students are reading proficiently in fourth grade, compared to 54% of white students, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The op-ed made the case that effective literacy instruction is not just an education issue, but an equity issue.

Mass Literacy was officially launched in November 2020. While the work has just begun, Massachusetts and the Rennie Center are off to a strong start in promoting evidence-based reading instruction across the state. To learn more about Mass Literacy, visit: https://www.doe.mass.edu/massliteracy/

By David Loewenberg, Senior Associate