Never Underestimate Your Potential Significance in a Teenager’s Journey

These notes are not prescriptive – no recipe – no “shoulds.”  Just a set of notes and questions that might lead to insights and desired actions.  The site is quite large, so these notes are intended to highlight some of the key concepts.

The challenge is to weave the heroic journey into your classes as appropriate.  Use whatever questions, guidelines or notes seem useful.

You can be very direct about how the heroic journey relates to your classes or less direct depending on what works best.

The challenge for your students is to be the author of their experience in your class as much as possible.  Being the author of a life is at the heart of the heroic journey.  How will they make the class work for them – not just complying or “being good”, but looking to see how the course can work for them. 

One advantage that this journey can provide is to increase your students’ perception of the relevance of the course/class by linking it to their stories.  That is not something that many students will usually naturally see, so you will need to be creative and direct in showing the connections.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”


Your Context Matters

Class Size & Workload

The size of the class can matter.  So can your workload – do you have time and energy to adapt the journey?  If you are stuck with curricula that are too restrictive or prescribed can make it tough.  Having colleagues that can collaborate in adapting the journey can make a dramatic difference as can school leadership that is supportive and engaged.   

Nature of the Course

Some subjects lend themselves  very naturally to the journey story, but there are journey stories in science and math, just as in literature courses or sociology/psychology courses.  Scientists and mathematicians went through their own journeys to make their discoveries just as the heroes of myth did.  And mastering science or math is part of the journey for students, with a particular focus on the challenge of mastery. 

Style of Teaching

The only style of teaching that can’t adapt the journey is one where the academic content is the only thing that is valued.  Even straight lecture, where there is little or no engagement, can be oriented toward getting across the story of the journey and how students can use it to understand and manage their experience. 

Nature of the Students

No two classes are exactly the same, so there is no “cookie cutter” approach to adapting the teen heroic journey.  Some classes lend themselves to a significant level of adaptation and some don’t.  For some classes there will be specific aspects of the journey that apply.   

Some students will naturally make it work for themselves, some will do so with some support and some won’t engage at all.  Younger adolescents may not be as ready to “get” the journey as older adolescents.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have the attention or energy to “get” the journey.  On the other hand, it may give them a better understanding of their experience and a path to improving it.

Where are They on Their Journeys?

The teen heroic journey is a ten year journey and you will only have them for about three to six months in your class.  Your students will be at different points in their journey in those three to six months – and each class will be different – so adapting the heroic journey is an art form for teachers.

It May be Primarily a Matter of Intent

The key question is probably, “What do I want to make happen in my class – how many benefits can I provide as I teach this class to this particular group of students?”  There are just too many variables to be prescriptive.  Just adapt with intent to fit your current reality.

“We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.”


Guiding Questions
The Three Core Challenges on the Journey

There are three core challenges that your students face on their teen heroic journey and each offers opportunities to support them on their journeys.  The following questions are intended to highlight key aspects of the three core challenges and lead to opportunities for adapting the journey.  Use what works for you.

#1 Forming an Identity as a Young Adult Identity – Who Am I?
  1. What are the “outer voices” in the class saying?  What are your students hearing others say about them in class, in hallways, etc.?
  2. What are students’ “inner voices” saying?  That may not be clear, but there is some conversation going on and for some students it will be pretty obvious.
  3. As a student, as a member/citizen of a class – how are they significant – how do they make a difference?  The differences will mostly be in little ways that they might miss or miss in others.  This may not even be on their radar.
  4. What values are part of the class?  How can students adopt them and how are differing values dealt with?
  5. How do the Big 10 identity factors play out (race, gender, religion, etc.)?
#2 Developing More Mature Relationships
  1. How aware are students of each other and how do they respond?
  2. Are students supporting others, competing in unhealthy ways, ignoring each other, bullying?
  3. How do students find and provide support – how is that structured into the work or norms of the class?
  4. Are students feeling “in the group” or “out of the group?”  The first issue in any group is inclusion or exclusion and that is particularly powerful for teenagers.
#3 Building the Range of Competencies Required of an Independent Young Adult

(Discovery and mastery is central to the heroic journey – at any age, but particularly for teenagers because of the number of competencies to be built.)

  1. How well do students understand that homework is part of the mastery process – not just content to learn or something they “have to do?”  That’s not a natural connection, unfortunately.
  2. How do you help students “learn to love the plateaus” – those periods between obvious spurts of progress?
  3. How well do students see the value/relevance of the discipline, habits and perseverance developed in the class?  Again, these are often seen as a “have to do” imposed on them vs. natural capabilities to be developed on the journey.
  4. How many of the wide array of competencies can be developed in the class beyond the course content?

Other Aspects of the Journey

The three core challenges noted above might be the most important sections of the site for you, but there are also sections that look at:

  • The nature of the journey – what’s normal and natural
  • What to do about it (six strategies)
  • Special sections, including how to thrive vs. just survive, a large resource section and a large section of quotes.


Pay attention to situations where a teenager is particularly stressed or vulnerable and more support than you can provide is needed.  Act to get that support. 

If suicide is an issue, there are two articles in the Specials section one for those who have a suicidal friend and one for those feeling suicidal themselves.

“A teacher affects eternity; he or she can never tell where his or her influence stops.”

Henry Brooks