In honor of Veterans Day, we asked NASSP’s Director of Leading and Learning Robyn Hamasaki to share how serving as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a PK-8 principal simultaneously made her a better leader. Thank you, Robyn, for your service. Happy Veterans Day to all!
How did being in the Army Reserve strengthen your leadership skills as a school leader?
Being an officer in the military and being a leader in a school are very similar. In both positions, we are role models—and servant leaders. As officers, we’re developing our soldiers with the skills and knowledge to do their jobs. In schools, we’re developing not only the teachers to be more effective teachers, but we’re developing students to be amazing learners, and we’re supporting parents to advocate for their children.
The Army uses the acronym “LDRSHIP” for each of its seven core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. And if you think about it, all seven words portray an army officer and a school leader, right? For example, in the military, we have to be loyal to our unit, our soldiers, our fellow officers, and to the mission. All of that. And in schools, you have to be loyal to your students, staff, families, and community members, and always do what’s best for the mission: student learning.
And just like in the military, with schools, human beings’ lives are at stake. You’ve got to do your job and do it well, no matter what. So, I served in both realms with a positive, professional attitude.
How did you balance leading a school while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve?
It was such a thrill and a challenge at the same time. When I was a battalion commander in Las Vegas, I was also a principal at Eldorado PK–8 School in Boulder, CO. I would finish school on a Friday afternoon, head out to Denver International Airport, catch a flight to Nevada, drive to the hotel, and wake up at “o’dark thirty” on Saturday morning for physical training with my unit, and then I would shower and eat breakfast and report to formation at 9:00 a.m. Two days of training and long hours of LDRSHIP were capped off with a Sunday evening flight back to Denver to arrive home by midnight. And then school started Monday morning with staff and students again—a tricky balance, and well worth it!
When it comes to leadership, what I did as an officer is similar to what I did at school as a principal. I listened, planned, problem-solved, worked with the troops, participated in events, encouraged others, and gave my soldiers guidance. As a school leader, I presented awards at events (spelling bees and read-a-thons), rewarded (with teacher appreciation days, student field days, and parent/guardian volunteer teas), and promoted (teachers as they went into administration and students as they graduated from 8th grade and continued onto high school). As an officer with my soldiers, I awarded them for achievements, rewarded them for challenges and unit events, and promoted them to a higher rank.
What is a myth about being a school leader and a military soldier simultaneously?
In the military, it sounds like every action stems from someone telling you what to do and then you do it—that it’s very regimented, where you get a command and do the command. People believe it’s very top-down—and even strict—in the military. Given my service, adults and students in my school who didn’t know me so well at first might have thought that the strict, regimented leader was who I was as a person and what I was bringing with me to the principalship.
But I am not this type of leader in either role. I foster very collaborative environments, and I need our people’s voices to help make the best decisions. So, even in the military, in my unit, in my section, I was always asking for feedback, support, or collaboration on what we were doing. In any setting, that’s the best practice, right? Just like in schools, our goal is to always distribute our leadership and empower others, and in the army it’s the same thing. We want to empower our soldiers to be the best that they can be, and in doing that we have to get their voices out there.
What would you most like people to know about school and military leaders?
That we serve others with passion. And that we work hard. Whether in the military or in school, I am here to serve and make a difference for the world.