Building a judgement scaffold

From the Director of Marrapatta Memorial Outdoor Education Centre

Like many people, I was recently alerted to the phenomenon of ‘planking’ – the act of lying flat like a plank and capturing it in a photograph. I was grappling with how such a basic physical pose could cause an injury, let alone a death. Once I had established that it is the location of the ‘performance’ that is the important factor, and that the first reported death occurred from a sixth floor balcony rail planking attempt, I began to see how judgement and circumstance could blend, and things could all go wrong.

Being something of a social media novice, the process of reviewing the planking phenomenon provided an opportunity to understand a little more clearly the exponential momentum which social media sites can generate. Here was a simple, perhaps artistic, human pose which was now part of a social media tsunami that inadvertently encouraged ‘plankers’ to outdo each other for the glory of five seconds of Facebook fame. While the two serious misadventures that were reported publically both involved a mixture of bravado and alcohol, individual judgement, or the lack thereof, played its part in turning a seemingly harmless activity into a tragedy.

I raised the topic of planking with a group of Year 8 and 9 students who were enjoying a Writers Retreat at Marrapatta. It was comforting to hear that while all but one had heard of planking, the majority, like me, failed to see the high risk attraction and were somewhat baffled by its value and profile. While still processing the mysterious nature of planking and its social media engine room, I was aware of my desire to discourage the unsafe exploration of planking while at Marrapatta.  Needless to say, the group then collaborated in setting some agreed ‘planking parameters’, if indeed the desire surfaced!

While planking appears, based on my small sample, to have limited appeal to younger girls, there are many other teenage experiences which will draw them in and excite them. It will be reliance on their developing resolve and judgement to navigate these with care, consideration and confidence.

Judgement and how to nurture it has been something I have been exploring with my own daughter who started Prep this year. Many emerging questions which follow the same theme include: can she do this; should I step in here or take a step back; is this dangerous; should I step in now; is she safe enough to take this potential fall or tumble?

These questions seem to highlight the perennial journey which parents navigate. How do I keep her safe while at the same time allow her the space to do things herself? How do I send the right messages: that I believe you are capable; that mistakes are part of learning; that if you identify the dangers and the ‘what ifs’, I will be here to help you interpret, and make thoughtful choices.

Getting the balance right and calibrating our support to suit our daughters seems of paramount importance (Grant, 2008; Preuschoff, 2004). Too much parental involvement can saturate the situation and lead to students missing important opportunities to make decisions for themselves. They miss out on the opportunity to develop their personal agency and judgement. This approach often disables the logical and natural consequences which flow from experiences, and in so doing, disempowers the girls from owning valuable learning and developing their own judgement. Even worse, it can send the deflating message that they cannot handle the situation themselves and that adults need to sort it out.

Author Michael Grose (2010) describes this “tricky parental dilemma” while discussing the process of “building scaffolds of independence” and the parental goal of “redundancy”. He suggests that “letting go and granting kids sufficient space is perhaps our greatest challenge”  but is essential in allowing them to take the small incremental steps required to build a structurally sound, resilient scaffold; one they can have the confidence to test when called upon and be proud of owning. He emphasises that “when we move towards redundancy, our children naturally move towards resilience and resourcefulness” (Grose, p.81) — which is perhaps the most important goal of educating and parenting.

The complexity of today’s world with its quickened pace, new environments, multiple information sources and diverse opportunities perhaps necessitates that young people demonstrate more sophisticated judgement than was required in the past. If they are to adapt successfully and make the most of their circumstances, then their capacity to call on their inner abilities and to apply sound judgement is fundamental.

Many opportunities to develop judgement are provided throughout the students’ time at Girls Grammar. One such opportunity is presented at Marrapatta and occurs during the Year 8 Connections programme where students participate in Team Challenge Day. Students are provided with the opportunity to function independently from staff while working in small teams to navigate around Marrapatta, solving problems along the way. This approach sends the message that staff think the students are capable and that you can do it. The approach encourages students collectively to take charge, work together, and realise their capabilities.

As each group gathers at their overnight campout site on Yabba Creek and begins to share the tales of their day, an overwhelming feature is always the sense of freedom they have enjoyed. They have appreciated the opportunity to show their capabilities and talents and build on their strengthening scaffold.

At Girls Grammar, I am always heartened by what the students can accomplish, given the opportunity and freedom to take initiative. While many take some time to find their feet and develop inner confidence, once it is found they seem to soar. Developing this inner confidence and the capacity to judge things for themselves is a key element in our shared goal of allowing the girls to thrive.

Mr J McIntosh


Grant, Ian & Mary. (2008). Raising Confident Girls: practical tips for bringing out the best in your daughter. Random House: New Zealand.

Grose, Michael, (2010). Thriving! Raising exceptional kids with confidence, character and resilience. Bantam: North Sydney.

Preuschoff, Gisela. (2004). Raising Girls – Why girls are different, and how to help them grow to be happy and strong. Finch Publishing: Sydney.

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