The University of Iowa

Delivering the Message About Literacy Improvement Efforts: the PROPeL Initiative

People sitting and looking at electronic devices

Get your thoughtfully-crafted message about your literacy initiative out to identified audiences using mediums most relevant to them such as newsletters, websites, social media, and video.


Sean Thompson

Communications Specialist, Iowa Reading Research Center

Posted on: August 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: This two-part blog post is the fourth in a series of posts related to our newest initiative, Practitioners and Researchers Overcoming Problems of Literacy (PROPeL).

In the first part of this two-part blog post, we discussed the emerging practice of school systems marketing and communicating their strengths, aspirations, and efforts such as literacy initiatives to various audiences. Once those audiences have been identified, systems must consider the messages to convey and the mediums by which to convey them.

Crafting Messages About the Literacy Initiative

Each potential audience in the marketing and communications plan will be unique in some ways, requiring a school system to consider how to tailor the message to be conveyed to a given audience. What does that audience want to know? What is most relevant to the concerned individuals? What is important for each audience to know and understand about the initiative? Some messaging may be very specifically tailored for a given audience, but there also will be a lot of overlap between audiences.

The messaging needs to be positive, highlighting any successes achieved toward the goal of improving students’ literacy outcomes. If the initiative is in the early stages prior to having concrete successes, the team can highlight its goals and what it realistically hopes to achieve. Our PROPeL teams are encouraged to revisit their SMART goals when developing their messaging about the initiative.

Considerations when crafting the messaging:

  • What is the goal the team is trying to achieve? Communicate the goals to each audience in a way that is most impactful and relevant to the particular group.
  • What area of literacy education was identified as needing improvement? Being transparent about an area of need shows that the team is serious about wanting to take steps to improve the situation for students.
  • Is the messaging focused on how the literacy initiative will positively affect students? Students are the ultimate reason behind the steps the team is taking to improve as educators. Make sure the targeted audiences know this as well. Look at the communications content with a critical eye to see if anything can be rewritten to focus on students.

Getting the Messages out to All Audiences

There are several methods and mediums to reach identified audiences and share information about the literacy initiative. Aside from one-on-one meetings (which may also be part of the plan), focus on the mediums that are most relevant to each audience and that fit within the time and resources available.

Here are a few mediums to consider using:

  • School or district newsletter: Whether it is delivered via hard copy or email, the school newsletter is a great medium by which to reach family members, staff, and other existing close community partners. The story of the initiative can be shared via basic news article, feature/human interest news article, photos, and graphics displaying data.
  • School or district website: Visitors to the school or district website likely include family members, staff, news media, and potential community partners looking for more information. Create a page just for the initiative and publish news articles, feature or human interest articles, photos, calendars, and more. Utilizing the website may also afford the benefit of assistance from a communications specialist in charge of the website to help with creating the content.
  • Social media: The school system likely already has social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, managed by a communications specialist or administrator who is always looking for content to share. Educators, community organizations, and families are likely to be following those accounts. Through short messages and photos, it is possible to share positive, upbeat updates about the initiative in real time. Share videos and articles, and include links back to the initiative website whenever possible. Followers may share and comment on the posts. Engaging with this type of interaction can strengthen connections with targeted audiences. Using mediums like Twitter only to convey one-way messages, as is the practice of many nonprofit organizations, misses an opportunity to build trust and further the message (Walters & Jamal, 2011).  A look at Minnetonka Public Schools’ use of social media revealed this informative and interactive medium yielded stronger relationships with key stakeholders that the district believes will help it achieve its goals related to student achievement (McKenzie, 2015).
  • Press release/earned media: An article in the local newspaper or report on the local radio or television newscast can portray the literacy initiative in a positive light and reach a wide audience, including community members, families, and elected officials. Send out a press release at the beginning of the initiative or at a crucial point in the process. Identify the reporters assigned to cover the schools, reach out to them directly with information about your initiative, and ask if they would like to do a story.
  • Video: To convey the story of the initiative in a compelling way, record interviews with participating educators or students who can talk about their favorite part of the new instructional method and how they have improved as readers. These videos can be produced with video equipment in the school, district, area education agency, or even with a smartphone camera. Videos can be shared on social media and posted to YouTube. Minnetonka Public Schools has found video to be a successful medium to convey information about new programs in order to garner family buy-in (McKenzie, 2015). The PROPeL initiative similarly has produced videos that help explain the initiative to external stakeholders and provide insight for those schools or districts considering a similar initiative.

Implementing a new literacy initiative, such as PROPeL, is a big endeavor. There may be a tendency to consider marketing and communications as a nonessential component that can be left out to focus on other aspects of the work. But without support from families, colleagues, and the community at large, the initiative will likely fail. A thoughtful marketing and communications plan can help obtain that support needed to help students reach their potential and improve their literacy outcomes. 


Clark, D. (2015, April 27). Why public schools are finally getting savvy about marketing. Forbes. Retrieved from

McKenzie, W. (2015, April). "Don't make them come to you." Educational Leadership, 72(7) | Full article