Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't let your leadership cause a Head-On collision!

Every September in Sweden, the citizens remember H-Day, probably some more fondly than others.  "Högertrafikomläggningen" ("The right-hand traffic diversion") was the day in 1967 in which Sweden switched from driving on the left-side of the road to the right side. While it may seem a bit comical now, it was serious business at the time, if you stop and reflect on the amount of planning that would go into such a switch, it is easy to question why even bother.  The background of the decision included over 40 years of debate in the country and once the decision was made by the government in 1963, it took four years of planning despite an overwhelming opposition from the public.  In fact, over 80% of the Swedish population opposed the switch but the leaders pressed on. Why? To begin with, most of Europe drove on the right side, including Norway and Finland (Sweden’s immediate neighbors) and more and more vehicles were being made to drive on the right side of the road.  Also, numerous studies had sited safety concerns for left-sided driving.  There were many more head-on collisions in Sweden per capita that other countries. And so the leaders pressed on despite opposition they believed they were making a change that would ultimately be good for the country. 
How does this compare to our leadership in education?  What sacred cows do we hold on to because it is the way we have always done it? Do we resist change because it might be an inconvenience and does not seem worth the effort?   In Sweden, they basically shut down the roads for a day, had lights, traffic signs and paint ready to go for an immediate switch.  They even bought over 8,000 buses with doors on the correct side nationwide to accommodate the change. They spent several years training drivers and preparing them for the change so that when it happened, it was actually one of the safest Mondays on record in terms of accidents. People were focused on their driving, had been prepared, and implemented the plan almost flawlessly. 

What if Sweden had never had an “H-Day”?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything would have gone on just as it was and people would have been content. However, maybe things are safer now….maybe driving between countries is easier and more likely.  My point in telling the story is not about the driving.  It is more about the vision, the planning, and the courage it took to make such a switch.  One that literally effected everyone in the country.  It took communication, courage, money, and time.  A lesson we would all be well served to remember when we are leading/seeking change in our schools and our system.  Not everyone is going to like it, but if we have a good reason, stick to the plan, and communicate/prepare everyone well, the change is much more likely to be successful and not a head-on collision.

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