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The Hero’s Journey Comes to Sunrise

Are you ready to be a hero?

This year, we at Sunrise Waldorf School (Sunrise) have chosen to work with a theme for this school year – the Hero’s Journey. It is informing our work in the classrooms, artistic activities, faculty and staff meetings, and social outreach.

Admissions and Communications Director Katherine Lampson explained the reason behind the theme: “By seeing ourselves, our colleagues and the children as heroes we can come to a deeper understanding of context in our own and other people’s lives, as well as the possibilities that hide within the challenges.”

Note: Hero is considered a gender-neutral word. Sunrise is using it to refer to male, female and non-binary individuals.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a narrative structure first articulated by writer and academic Joseph Campbell. He first described the Hero’s Journey in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. His framework included three main parts (Departure, Initiation and Return) divided into 17 stages.

Hollywood executive and screenwriter Christopher Vogler adapted Campbell’s ideas into a 12-stage structure that continues to be popular. He shared his ideas in a book called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

Whether you prefer Campbell’s 17 stages or Vogler’s 12, here is the basic structure:

· The hero is living an ordinary life when they are called to adventure;

· At first the hero refuses the call, but ultimately decides to go;

· On the journey, the hero faces many challenges, and deals with malevolent and benevolent forces;

· Mentors help the hero along the way;

· Finally, the hero faces a huge ordeal and succeeds;

· The hero then journeys back to the ordinary world with new knowledge and skills that are shared with society.

This narrative arc is found in stories and myths from around the world and continues to be used in movies, novels, and other forms of storytelling today.

The Hero’s Journey in Waldorf Education

Hero’s Journeys are woven into the Waldorf curriculum right from the very beginning. Children are introduced to fairy stories with heroes in preschool, legends of the saints in Class 2, and Norse myths in Class 4. In Class 8, students often study real-life heroes in biography projects.

Waldorf festivals also incorporate Hero’s Journey myths and ideas. Michaelmas focuses on triumph over adversity with the story of St. George slaying the dragon. Santa Lucia is another hero celebrated with a festival. Even Advent spirals link to the Hero’s Journey theme as children go on their own adventures into and out of the spiral.

Hero’s Journey at Sunrise

At Sunrise, we are incorporating the Hero’s Journey theme in a number of ways. We spoke with Class 4 teacher Amber Halls to find out how she has been working with the theme this year.

First, at a staff and faculty meeting in September, Ms. Halls led an exercise using the 12-step Hero’s Journey. She explained, “I wrote the name of each step, but without the description, on a piece of paper. And then everyone who was at the meeting chose one. They had to draw a picture based on those simple words. Then we put them in order and talked about each step in more detail.”

She explained that she has also been using the Hero’s Journey as a personal focus. “A Hero's Journey, to me, is about overcoming obstacles, whether internal or external,” she said. “I definitely have been looking at it personally for my own life.”

Ms. Halls has also incorporated the Hero’s Journey into her work in the classroom. “I've been trying to look at the challenges my class faces this year,” she explained. “How can I arrange it so they can meet that challenge but have the best tools to overcome it?” She has also been “talking with the children about what a hero is. Is it always someone who kills monsters or not?”

Other aspects of the Hero’s Journey hold valuable lessons. “Something I'm also trying to do with my class is to help them realize how much work it takes to do things, the patience and the perseverance,” she said. “Heroes didn't become heroes overnight.”

Hero’s Journey at Home

Ms. Halls also offered some good suggestions for parents who are interested in working with the Hero’s Journey at home.

First, she recommends talking about heroes with children and asking, “What is a heroic act? Does it always have to be violent? Could it be standing up for someone? Could it be a little thing like going out of your way to help someone?”

Another interesting idea is around goal setting. Ms. Halls said, “Have the children set a goal or skill they'd like to gain, and then figure out how they're going to work towards accomplishing it.”

Heroes Need Community

It is important to remember that heroes never walk their paths alone. Ms. Hall pointed out, “No hero in a story would have made it without help from someone.”

This help can come in the form of mentorship. Ms. Hall recommended, “With the older children especially, it would be really nice for them to have an opportunity to reach out to the other members of their family, as mentors. Someone they look up to and could learn from and spend time with,” she said.

Help can also come from being willing to reach out. As parents and heroes in our own lives, we often think we have to go it alone. But asking for help is vital, especially for heroes.

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