Every month we publish two articles on “Shady Oak Best Practices,” our favorite approaches to education and why they work. If friends ask why you send your kids to Shady Oak instead of a “regular” school, refer them to this series—and the science backing us up—for starters.

Allowing students to ask questions—and even question the teacher—is a vital part of effective education. It’s even better when the concept is taken to its highest level, providing students with regular opportunities to contribute input toward the administration of the larger class—or the whole school.

Student Voting
Opening the door for students to express opinions and even vote on school policies is simply a way of introducing them to greater responsibility

If providing for “student voice” on that level brings on nightmare visions of a school run by the students, where homework is banned and kids are free to run through the halls and cut class at will—relax. Opening the door for students to express opinions and even vote on school policies is simply a way of introducing them to greater responsibility and helping them feel respected, which ultimately improves both their cooperation and their learning abilities.

Student Voting

Reasons to Allow Student Voting

  1. Young minds are great sources of original and innovative ideas. Notwithstanding the advantages of experience, those with multiple years in a field have a tendency to get set in “we’ve always done it that way” thinking, blinding themselves to possible better ways of doing things.
  2. Getting kids involved gives them an opportunity to learn how schools really work and what the goals of education are. Students who regard their schools’ assignments and rules as completely arbitrary, with explanations limited to “because we said so,” tend to go through the motions grudgingly rather than develop any real interest in learning.
  3. When students, teachers, and administrators share opinions freely, they develop greater respect for each other (and get to know each other as individuals), building an overall atmosphere of cooperation.
  4. When people feel their opinions have been genuinely heard and considered, they like the “higher-ups” better and become more interested in pleasing them. Young children, especially, often feel that adults treat them like brainless incompetents to be humored or patronized; getting actual respect from adult authorities is incredibly disarming.
  5. Kids are more naturally responsible than we give them credit for. The idea that all they care about is instant gratification often grows because their freedom and sense of control are restricted in every other aspect of life. When invited to make important decisions in a context of active planning and goal-setting, they tend to set standards for themselves even higher than their teachers would.

At Shady Oak, we emphasize student voting because it gives children a chance to learn responsibility and to be a real help in effectively running the school.