Learning Spaces Students and Teachers Can Get Excited About

In their second principal interview for the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Minnesota principal Curtis Slater about leading change through messaging and redesigning learning spaces.

Center for Innovative Leadership

Curtis Slater, principal at Wyoming Elementary School in Wyoming, Minnesota, is more than just a very tall man who loves wearing bright-colored shoes to school every day. (He lets his students pick what color of shoes he’ll wear the next day.) He’s also a principal who’s willing to go above and beyond to help his students, his staff, and his community.

“Don’t be afraid to do things we’re told not to do,” Slater recommends. “We have to blow up the rule to ‘know your role.’ If I have a child and I know that child is walking in the rain, I’m going to pick that child up.”

He high-fives—and even low-fives—his students in the hallway. When asked what he thinks the students learn from that experience, his answer is simple: They learn they’re loved. His passion for his students, staff, and community doesn’t even come close to stopping there.

The Challenges:

  1. How do I lead change through the messages we send to our students and the community?
  2. What’s the best way to redesign learning spaces?

What You’ll Learn

In this video, Slater takes you on a tour of his school to show you just how he works to support his staff and students and give a voice to their families. From Slater, you will learn ideas to:

Principal Spotlight:

Curtis Slater
Principal, Wyoming Elementary
chool in Wyoming, Minnesota
Twitter: @Slater_Curtis_
Facebook: facebook.com/

Principal of Wyoming Elementary School for almost 5 years, Slater believes in the importance of telling your story as a principal. He also believes that if you don’t love what you do, you should move on. That’s not an issue for him, however, as his passion for his school family shines through in everything he does. If you’re going to the NAESP Pre-K-8 Principals Conference in Spokane, Washington, in July, and you want to connect with Slater, just look for the guy handing out fishing lures instead of business cards.

Teach students about respect and kindness.

  • The teachers in the school recognize classrooms with badges for accomplishing things. One of the top badges to earn is the Golden Vacuum Cleaner, which is exactly what it sounds like—an old vacuum cleaner spray painted gold. The custodian selects the class with the cleanest room, and that classroom earns that badge and the vacuum cleaner until the next class wins it. Slater sees this as a teaching moment to let students know that it’s as important to accomplish things as a class, as a grade level, and as a school as it is to have personal accomplishments.
  • When you enter Wyoming Elementary School, you’ll see a bulletin board featuring “Partners in Learning: Outstanding Wildcats.” The students can earn “Roar Tickets” every week, and at the end of a two-week period, each class has a drawing to pick out one student to recognize from each of the 25 classes in the school. “Everyone has a chance,” says Slater. “It’s not about the student that gets the most work done. It’s not about getting straight A’s. It’s an opportunity to show respect and kindness to each other every day.”

Give a voice to families.

  • When family members come to parent-teacher conferences, Slater wants to make sure they have a role in the process. Teachers asked parents to describe their child on a card without using the child’s name. These cards are all hung on a bulletin board in the hallway. The parents love it because it gives them a voice, and the students love it because they get to read them to see if they can figure out which description was written about them. It went so well, Slater expanded the initiative, asking parents to write similar notes about teachers to show them their appreciation.

Create a learning space children and teachers are excited about.

  • The school will be remodeling its media center over the summer to become a makerspace. “We want to create a space where the kids are excited—all the way from green screen technology and coding technology to 3D printers and a flexible learning space where students can sit and read or hang out with their friends.” He also plans on using the area as a place where staff can be creative and collaborate on projects.

Up your Good News Call of the Day game.

  • Slater appreciates the people who support his school but rarely get the recognition they deserve. There’s more to a school community than just the students and faculty—like the school bus drivers and the custodians. He is a Good News Call of the Day regular, but he’s gone beyond calling students families. He’s also calling the families of the district’s bus drivers to let them know how much he appreciates their contribution to the school.


  1. Be deliberate about how you design learning spaces.
  2. Give a voice to families of your students.
  3. Have fun doing what you’re doing, and if you don’t, move on.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.