The MESPA PrincipalCast is a podcast created by MESPA members, for MESPA members! With a rotating cast of hosts and guests, the MESPA PrincipalCast will touch on important topics like mental health and school culture, as well as featured stories from principals like you in the trenches.

Listen anywhere! The MESPA PrincipalCast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, YouTube, and more.  Subscribe on your favorite podcast player and start listening immediately from your phone or other device – or click the play button below to listen right from this web page!  Don't forget to rate and review the podcast on your platform of choice to help other principals find the show.

Get involved with the podcast!  Interested in hosting? Guesting?  Have a topic you'd like us to discuss?  Click here to let us know, or contact Christine Johnson, Program Manager, 952.297.8675


Episode 22: Brad Gustafson Returns!

Dr. Brad Gustafson, principal of Greenwood Elementary School in Wayzata, is our latest podcast guest! Brad is not only a principal and active MESPA member but also an accomplished author and will be the closing keynote speaker at Institute 2022. Hear about Brad's latest book, The 6 Literacy Levers, and how embracing reading and challenging his own thoughts about literacy have made him a better leader. Don't miss Brad's keynote on Friday, Feb. 4th at Institute 2022! Click here to register and come back together with MESPA.

Go to to see a list of Brad's books and learn more about his work.

Episode 21: Adam Welcome

Our opening thought leader for Institute 2022, Adam Welcome, joins Bret on the podcast! Adam talks about his career journey and his philosophy of simplifying your plans for a greater chance of success. Hear about the inception of "Kids Deserve It" and Adam's approach to making an impact on educators as a speaker. Don't miss Adam's keynote on Wednesday, Feb. 2nd at Institute 2022! Click here to register and come back together with MESPA.

Go to to see a list of Adam's books, and connect with him online via @mradamwelcome across social media platforms.

Episode 20: Nancy Antoine Returns!

It's a first for MESPA PrincipalCast! Bridgewater Elementary School principal Nancy Antoine returns to the podcast to speak with Bret about receiving the 2021 MN NAESP National Distinguished Principal Award. Listen for Nancy's approach to difficult conversations about equity, and what it means to be a Nationally Distinguished Principal. The 2022 NDP award is open for applications! Visit to learn more and download an application.

Episode 19: Jen Olson

In this episode, Jen Olson—principal at Humphrey & Winsted Elementary Schools in the Howard-Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District and MESPA's former Secretary/Treasurer—talks about what it's like to be a principal of two schools at the same time, work/life balance, being a female leader in her community, and the advocacy efforts of principals that go on at a state and national level. You can find Jen on Twitter @JenO2687.

Episode 18: Gabe Hackett

Welcome back to the MESPA PrincipalCast! In this episode, Gabe Hackett—elementary school principal in Monticello—talks about his journey to the principalship, the power of finding support through social media, and tips for how to create a positive and productive school culture. You can find Gabe on Twitter @LME_Principal or read his blog at

Episode 17: Dr. Brad Gustafson

In this encouraging episode, Dr. Brad Gustafson, elementary school principal in Wayzata, former National Distinguished Principal, and author of "Renegade Leadership" and "Reclaiming our Calling" discusses the shift we're seeing in education with another period of Distance Learning looming on the horizon. While Distance Learning isn't ideal, Dr. Gustafson and Bret have a candid conversation about what is going right, the realities of being a principal during this time, and different ways to approach this challenge. You can find Dr. Gustafson on Twitter @GustafsonBrad or visit his website. Watch via YouTube.

Episode 16: Dr. Katie Pekel

Podcast host Bret Domstrand interviews the constantly curious Dr. Katie Pekel of the University of Minnesota's Minnesota Principals Academy (MPA). Dr. Pekel has worked as a middle school and elementary school principal, ultimately ending up as the Principal in Residence with MPA. In this episode, they discuss Dr. Pekel's passion for research and what academic research looks like when it's implemented in a real life classroom. Dr. Pekel also talks about what it's like working for the University of MN, the success of MPA, and her respect for the legislative process. You can find her on Twitter @KatiePekel. Don't forget you can view the online video recording!

Episode 15: Roger Aronson

Podcast host, Bret Domstrand sits down with MESPA Legal Counsel and Lobbyist, Roger Aronson to discuss how he came to be a lobbyist for educators. Roger, a born and bred Minnesotan talks about his career trajectory, what it's like working as a legislator, and how he maximizes his time and nourishes relationships with politicians on our behalf. View the online video recording.

Episode 14: Dr. Eric Skanson

Join host Bret Domstrand and 2019 National Distinguished Principal, Dr. Eric Skanson as they discuss a variety of topics including how Eric balances being a father and a principal while having his own children in his school, and how becoming NDP impacted him. In this easy conversation, Eric also discusses his educational philosophies and shares advice for fellow leaders.

Episode 13: Nancy Antoine

Live from MESPA Institute 2020, this episode features NAESP National Distinguished Principal Award finalist and MESPA Past-President, Nancy Antoine. Nancy is principal of Bridgewater Elementary in Northfield, MN, and she discusses the importance of being an involved leader, professionally and personally. Nancy explains what motivates her as an educator and talks about issues near and dear to her heart.

Episode 12: Larry Thompson

Author of Roadmap to Responsibility, Larry has helped thousands of educators and schools break away from their traditional discipline models to a model that creates a responsible climate and responsible students. In this episode, Larry talks with host Bret Domstrand about his journey to developing the Responsibility-Centered Discipline model and how shifting the discipline paradigm in our schools can drastically improve the behaviors and livelihoods of our students. Larry provides insight into his model and explains what the adults in the room can do differently to get the results we are looking for from kids. Catch Larry at MESPA Institute 2020 on Thursday, February 6! 

Episode 11: Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess

School leaders Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf discuss their book, Lead Like a Pirate, and what character traits make up great school leaders. We talk about why culture matters FIRST, how to build culture and trust with your staff and families, and, most importantly, how to get everyone on "team kid." Catch Shelley & Beth's keynote, Transform Culture and Build Schools Where Students & Staff Run to Get IN, not OUT at MESPA Institute 2020

Episode 10: Ken Williams

In this episode, we hear from Ken Williams, Chief Visionary Officer of Unfold the Soul, an organization dedicated to helping schools live their posters. Ken, a former principal turned author and speaker, shares his experience with bringing school leaders and their staff together through strategic communication and the power of PLCs. Ken is presenting his keynote, Starting a Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities at MESPA Institute 2020 on Thursday, February 6th. 

Episode 9: Jessica Cabeen

In this episode, we talk with the unconventional Jessica Cabeen, Principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin, MN, national speaker, and author of several books, including her newest two: LEAD WITH GRACE and UNCONVENTIONAL LEADERSHIP. Bret and Jessica discuss her leadership style, how she balances her work and family life, and her experience as a National Distinguished Principal.

Episode 8: Heather T. Forbes

In this episode, we talk with Heather T. Forbes. Heather aims to bridge the gap between academic research and “when the rubber hits the road” school situations, giving educators the understanding and tools they need for even the most challenging of students. Heather talks with principal Bret Domstrand about what educators need to know about trauma, and more importantly, what we can do with that knowledge to better support our students. Heather is one of our keynotes at MESPA Institute 2020!

Episode 7: Jeannie Mayer

In this episode, we hear from Jeannie Mayer, Principal in Menahga. Jeannie explains how her school has dramatically dropped behavior referrals and boosted attendance. Jeannie also shares what she learned during her trip to Finland to experience the country's renowned public school system and how she's learned to trust her gut in the principalship. Interview by Kip Lynk.

Episode 6: Erik Davis

Erik Davis, Principal of Shannon Park Elementary, is interviewed by Tami Staloch-Schultz, Principal of Westview Elementary. In this episode, Erik discusses the most interesting First Day of School (probably EVER!); how he's navigated becoming the principal in a building that had a long legacy of great leadership; and what happened in his school, when, inspired by Jimmy Casas, he asked his staff, "where are we average?" 

Episode 5: Bret Domstrand

We are flipping the script in Episode 5: the interviewer, Principal Bret Domstrand, has become the interviewee as our next host, Principal Leadership Specialist, Kip Lynk, takes on the task of getting to know our O.G. host a little better. In this episode, Bret highlights his success with Breakfast After the Bell, his challenges in becoming a principal, and his new journey in pursuit of his doctorate.

Episode 4: Melissa Sonnek

Melissa Sonnek, current Elementary Program Administrator and former principal in Roseville Area Schools, shares her journey to her current role, her school's response following the shooting of Philando Castile, her experience at the MN Principals Academy, and her commitment to resilience and scholarly leadership. Hosted by Principal Bret Domstrand.

Episode 3: Dr. Clay Cook

In this episode, we hear from Dr. Clay Cook, John W. and Nancy E. Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing, professor, and core faculty in the Institute of Translational Research in Children's Mental Health. Clay has extensive research and practical experiences involving the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to promote children’s mental and behavioral health. Listen on this page or in your preferred podcast app (Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, Spotify, etc.)

Episode 2: Ashley Farrington

Lake Marion Elementary Principal Bret Domstrand interviews Wayzata Central Middle School Associate Principal Ashley Farrington about his path to becoming a school leader, transitioning from elementary to middle school, how to recruit teachers of color, building class community, and much more!

Episode 1: Curtis Slater

Wyoming Elementary Principal Curtis Slater is the first guest on MESPA PrincipalCast, the new podcast from MESPA. In this episode, Lake Marion Elementary Principal Bret Domstrand interviews Principal Slater about his school culture philosophy, his selection as 2018 National Distinguished Principal, his work with PBIS, why he wears those colorful shoes, and much more!

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