3 Ways Teachers Can Use the Hero's Journey Framework
Build resilience, empathy and meaning.
Every student that chooses to learn a language is on their own hero's journey.
The hero's journey is a story outline of someone going on an adventure, encountering troubles and returning successfully. Popular stories have used this framework for thousands of years - from Hercules to Harry Potter.
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Interestingly, the hero's journey also maps onto our students' learning and our own teaching experience.
We can use this knowledge to build empathy, resilience, and deeper meaning.
Let's dig deeper.
The Hero's Journey
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” - Joseph Campbell
The hero's journey breaks down into a series of steps. The story starts and ends in the ordinary world, but the hero is a very different person by the end - they've been transformed by their experiences.
The hero's journey was popularised by Joseph Campbell, but we’ll use the updated framework by Christopher Vogler.
The ordinary world - life as normal.
Call to adventure - a potential adventure appears.
Refusal of the call - they resist the adventure.
Meeting the mentor - a guide appears.
Departure - they begin the adventure and leave their comfort zone.
Tests, allies, enemies - they face challenges, make friends and meet enemies along the path.
Approach to the inmost cave - approaching a huge challenge.
Ordeal - the biggest challenge.
Reward - that they get from completing the main challenge.
The road back - the journey back.
Resurrection - a final challenge.
Return - the return to a normal life, but hugely improved.
The Student's Journey
For our students, the steps of the hero's journey might look like this:
1. The ordinary world - our student is going about their daily life before learning a new language.
2. Call to adventure - the student starts to consider the possibility of change and a better life.
Perhaps their friend travels abroad and invites them to join them. Maybe their parents offer to send them to university overseas. They might see lucrative jobs being advertised where speaking another language is essential.
The lure of a better world is being heard.
3. Refusal of the call - they resist the idea.
They talk themselves out of studying a language because of self-doubt, anxiety, or worries over money, time, or the possibility of failure and losing face.
4. Meeting the mentor - a teacher or guide arrives. This is their first contact with your language school, and possibly you. The school shows them the steps they need to take to meet their goals, the length of the course, and outlines a learning plan.
5. Departure - This is where they start their journey.
They take their first lesson. It's uncomfortable, they don't know anyone in their class, and they feel confused and uncertain. Being outside their comfort zone is a difficult place to be.
But hopefully, they have a great teacher (you!) who guides them and helps them get a small 'win' that encourages them enough to come back for the next lesson.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - They make friends in class. They learn which tools they like, and don't like. They face the challenges of learning and using new vocabulary and grammar. They struggle with pronunciation. They're tempted to slack off and miss classes.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave - Getting closer to our goal.
They're getting close to achieving their goal. Whether it's to pass an IELTS test, or another test, or get a job, their language goal is close.
8-11. Ordeal, Reward, Road Back & Resurrection - The student takes the test, goes for the interview or travels abroad. They struggle and do their best while having moments of doubt about their abilities.
12. Return - They succeed in their goal. They pass the test, do well in their dream job, and are successful in studying abroad.
The Teacher's Journey
As teachers, we go through a similar journey for each class/term we have.
Every time we start a new class, we have new students to guide, support and nurture. We are called to help and support students on their journey.
We often don’t feel like it, but turn up anyway and hopefully have success when we see students succeed and learn.
Then the cycle starts again.
How do We Use Our Hero’s Journey?
1. Raise your empathy
Simply being aware of the cycles that we go through and the journey we’re all on can raise our empathy for what students are going through.
When we’re tired, stressed, or having a bad day, we can remember that every student in our care is going through their own struggles.
2. Teach it and raise resilience and perseverance
Teaching the hero’s journey explicitly can raise their self-esteem, resilience and perception of themselves.
By framing themselves as the hero in their own personal life story, students gain new motivation and meaning in what they’re doing. Looking ahead to the benefits learning will bring raises external motivation. Believing yourself to be a hero and overcoming challenges raises internal motivation.
3. Find more meaning and resilience yourself
What the hero’s journey framing can do for your students can also do for you.
Seeing yourself as the hero in your own journey can give you a boost of motivation.
Pre-service teachers also go through a similar struggle when they start their training to become teachers. Many trainees that want to become teachers face difficulties when encountering teaching for the first time, as some have different perceptions of what teaching is really like compared to reality.
One study looked at using the hero’s journey as a tool for trainee teacher understanding and found that it was beneficial.1
Start visualising yourself as the main character in your own hero’s journey today! When you’re stuck making a decision, ask yourself, ‘what would the main character do?’. And the next time you see your students, look at them all and realise they’re all struggling with their own journey, most of which we don’t know anything about.
Good luck with your journey!
If you’d like to learn more, I can help:
1. Plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (106 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (21 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (8 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
Goldstein, Lisa S. ‘Becoming a Teacher as a Hero’s Journey: Using Metaphor in Preservice Teacher Education’. Teacher Education Quarterly 32 (2005): 7–24.