Center for Global Integrated Education
234 E. Alfred Dr.
Claremont California



Motivating Learning by Engaging the Altruistic Identity

Motivating Learning by Engaging the Altruistic Identity


Teresa Henkle Langness, Ph.D.


Board Chair/Executive Director  Full-Circle Learning/Children’s Enrichment Program
19609 Vision Drive
Topanga CA 90290 USA


Some educational models focus on competition to meet academic standards—a form of modern day survival. Others take a step farther toward recognizing the holistic needs of humans by creating a sense of connectivity and purpose with the integration of two or more content areas. Some even create a classroom community by nurturing a sense of belonging and self-esteem.


Full-Circle Learning does not settle for partial integration nor a sense of personal belonging or identity. Its goal is to appeal to the higher nature in each person to seek joy and meaning in each of life’s pursuits. This educational approach is based on the theory that linking educational experiences with higher goals in the formative years influences lifelong orientation and social outcomes for the greater society. Therefore, it is designed to give each student a chance to reach for the highest sense of purpose possible.


According to the definition set forth in Full-Circle Learning, a fully integrated curriculum:


  1. Offers students a vocabulary for understanding, role playing, deliberately applying and reflecting on their own character development;
  2. Applies character traits through service projects that link students and teachers with local and global communities;
  3. Incorporates into the character-based service projects the specific application of skills in multiple (if not all) academic content areas taught within the unit;
  4. Presents contexts for problem solving and community conflict resolution practices, based on the academic- and character-based themes of the unit; and
  5. Incorporates curriculum-specific music and art into the project, to reinforce the character and service goals of the learning unit and to offer as gifts for guest presenters who serve as role models of the practical applications of the traits.


Integrated education, by definition, is a world-embracing model. It assumes the belief that healthy humans, when nurtured, are ethical beings who find fulfillment in caring for the well being of others, who empathize not only with family or countrymen but with all others who share the human condition. It assumes that this higher nature impels people, when well nurtured, to give freely of their intellect and talents. Integrated education does not imply less specialization; only less compartmentalization. (When taught holistically, a student’s specialties become fulfilling aspects not only of professional but their personal lives.) Ultimately, the nurturing environments inherent in integrated education, in fact, create not only more fully integrated, reflective, accountable human beings but better integrated, healthier societies.





Teresa Henkle Langness is a professional author and non-profit executive director who has written for the leading US publishers of textbooks and educational media as well as writing books of literary fiction (including the acclaimed Nine O’Clock Blue), poetry, and environmental non-fiction. She is the originator of the Full-Circle Learning educational model and  the founding board chair/executive director of the Children’s Enrichment Program board that piloted the model. She serves as an advisor to the board of the Center for Global Integrated Education and also as a national board member of Health for Humanity. She co-founded the Human Relations Forum of Torrance, California and acts as editor of its annual Visions of Unity anthology. She has been listed in of Who’s Who of American Women since 1987 and has been a nationally published poet and writer of magazine articles since 1973. Her awards and award nominations, from the regional to the international, span several professional genres, including writing in the fields of literature, poetry, education and advertising, as well as in human relations and human rights work. In 2004, Trinity Southern University granted her a Ph.D. in Fine Arts for applied life experience, for the body of her written work.



Motivating Learning by Engaging the Altruistic Identity

Teresa Henkle Langness, Ph.D.


How do humans learn? The question has intrigued educators throughout history and created respect for the theories of revolutionaries from Socrates to Howard Gardner. In practice, educators too often must do what is expedient instead of what works. Rethinking education often means giving license to educators to dream about unlocking the highest potential of each student. Is it enough to motivate students to learn merely for the purpose of economic survival or for the purpose of achieving a positive assessment to earn a sense of belonging for the sake of self or the sake of the school?


Applying Maslow’s model of the hierarchy of needs, the highest level and the noblest vision would entice us to foster a personality able to find itself by losing itself—to see its identity and its creativity as part of a holistic world of beauty—to see its own learning as contributing to an ever advancing civilization, a world civilization not based on survival or fear or on the need to belong, but based on a sense of wholeness and well being and oneness—a desire to contribute for the good of all.


This noblest of all educational visions, evidence suggests, could be the one that motivates learning in the most profound sense. The learning is not only cognitive but also emotional. It is not just theoretical but experiential and interactive. It is not just science-based but also artistic. It is not just individualized but also collaborative. It is learning that engages and develops the altruistic identity, and by doing so, motivates a higher degree of absorption and skills development.


The model called Full-Circle Learning derives from these goals. Designed to influence attitude as well as aptitude, it seeks to engage the whole students, especially during the formative years in seeking a higher purpose and not only discovering the processes for learning but finding relevant meaning in the question of why to learn.


This learning model, in 2003, received citation from the Academy for Educational Development as it is implemented in after-school programs as a promising practice for nurturing altruistic identities and helping students develop the lifelong habit of service to humanity. In 2004, it earned the John Anson Ford award for influencing human relations in Los Angeles, the US city with the longest standing human relations commission. It was the only award given for influencing the very young.


The Full-Circle Learning Model uses the following strategies to pursue these results:


  1. A five-spoked wheel of content areas that link character education, academic and arts enrichment, conflict resolution and community service and infuses meaning into those fields of study.
  2. Interdisciplinary, interactive projects that spring from character education, integrate all the five areas and culminate in local and/or global service. Positive habits-of-heart become the themes for integrated, interactive projects that link moral, academic and artistic education as one.
  3. Lesson plans and other materials show teachers how to present positive habits-of-heart and teach students to practice each habit not only in their personal lives but through hands-on projects that challenge them to use math, science, social studies, reading, writing, music, art and conflict resolution skills in service to humanity. The approach is deliberate and pervasive in the school, the home, the local community and the student’s global interactions.
  4. Student exposure to positive adult role models who exhibit intercultural harmony and service to humanity rather than self interest in their application of skills and habits-of-heart in community life. Lesson plans and training materials are provided for the teacher, who broadens students’ global awareness about community needs and resources, facilitates the learning process and guides students to gradually make altruistic connections and choices on their own in later life. Students not only build capacity but feel the immediate fulfillment of being helpful and needed by others. They see the value of the academic, artistic and personal skills they honed to provide a specific service.
  5. The Full-Circle Learning culture urges educators to use classroom management practices that emphasize 1) Prevention through teacher preparation; 2) A peer culture based on valuing service; 3) Corrective strategies that emphasize positivity, reflection and accountability.


Basis for the Model


The success of the Full-Circle Learning model is supported not only by its triggers for students with varying learning styles and emotional constructs but also based on the research of educators from several areas of expertise:


  1. Research suggests that the best way to increase competency in standardized tests and on report cards is, paradoxically, to help a child enjoy learning and see its value. (Stipek and Seal, 2001, Motivated Minds, p. 4-5).


  1. By teaching and modeling positive character traits, adults can help children internalize the perceptions and habits that will lead to success in school, harmonious relationships and spiritual well being (Costa, 1997 The School as a Home for the Mind, 87-94)


  1. Children learn best in a milieu where diverse ages, genders, races and cultures are appreciated and the experiences of all are valued. (Levy, Learning from Scratch, 1996, 184-5)


  1. Children learn best when learning serves a purpose. Project-based, interdisciplinary learning can reinforce basic concepts and skills by helping students understand them in a relevant context and by encouraging positive partnerships. Motivation increases when children have opportunities to apply their talents in the real world in a context useful to others. (November 1996, Technology in Today’s Classroom.)


  1. Students and society benefit when schools open their eyes to the needs, suffering and hopes of children worldwide and develop a partnership through empathic global education. (Eisler, 2000, Tomorrow’s Children, Westview Press, Boulder, p. 25).


  1. Altruism is no mere ornament to social life but its fundamental basis. Eight social processes promote inclusive altruistic propensities: bonding, empathizing, learning caring norms, participating in caring behaviors, diversifying, networking, developing problem-solving strategies and forming global connections. Together, these processes link the learner to a broader society (Oliner, Embracing the Other, New York University Press, 1995, pp. 375-376, 386).


Oliner’s research (p. 377) identifies childhood as the most significant time for developing an inclusive, altruistic orientation, especially when families cannot nurture it or when so much time is spent away from family that those predisposed toward civic-mindedness lose the propensity to fully contribute to society. This model, then, improves the prognosis for capable and ethical leadership in the communities of the future and influences student aptitude by fostering globally altruistic attitudes. In the community served, it expands the range of educational opportunities.



Does Altruism Motivate Learning Using this Model?


Full-circle learning melds the seams between the head, heart and hands by helping students apply their intellectual, creative and technical skills in altruistic endeavors. So far, the sites using this model are small, and so are the samplings, and yet, over time, the results amount to a significant trend. At the pilot site in Los Angeles where independent academic testing has occurred (WRAT-3 and Gray Oral Reading) both motivation and achievement increased. When a small group of full-circle learning students were tested after 2 ½ years of after-school and/or summer school training, 54% had increased their grade equivalency by a full 2-5 grade levels. Consistently, from year to year, 75%-84% increased grade equivalency in reading, math and spelling in the first year of participation alone. These tests occurred over a period of four years.


Additionally, at multiple sites with varying cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, parents responding to anonymous surveys reported universal improvements in their children’s social skills and/or motivation to learn. They also reported varying improvements in academic and artistic skill areas as well as conflict resolution skills, compassion and global awareness.  (See the sample evaluations.*)


Teachers have referred students to the program, and teacher surveys report that students enrolled showed greater accountability and leadership skills as well as greater problem solving ability. Administrators reported increased ability for students to resolve conflicts. One social worker called to say that all her foster children who had been through the program thrived emotionally and academically more than any other children she had ever represented. Students who enrolled in enrichment versions of the program labeled as maladjusted or difficult students have frequently left labeled as highly gifted students, whose graduation speeches indicated that the enrichment they received affected their approach to lifelong learning and giving back.  More often than not, in fact, students’ own speeches, writings and behavior show personal transformation over time and the mark of current and future altruistic identities.


Engaging the altruistic identity motivates learning and brings many additional benefits for society and for the families and individuals that compose that society.


Integrated Education Using the Full-Circle Learning Approach


Full-Circle Learning is more than a curriculum. It is also a culture. Therefore, the teaching strategies used should reinforce the goal of integrating all aspects of the students’ development. Most teachers need initial training and ongoing inquiry and implementation based learning to effectively foster the environment that supports the approach. Full-Circle Learning teachers need to share the vision—to feel committed to the aspects of education they will integrate:


Character Education: At the core of the human maturation process, the development of character means more than an obligatory response to a set of rules or an accepted social code. Character can also refer to the psyche, the soul or the spirit–all terms used in various cultures to indicate a higher consciousness. The part of human nature that responds to inspiration, to innate morality, or to a sense of the divine lends higher meaning, vision and purpose to life than to the compulsions of the moment. Character development, then, means subduing the animal nature in favor of a more spiritually-driven (enlightened) inner locus of control. It means by deliberately cultivating the most transcendent, enlightened, other-directed aspects of human nature. It means developing the orientation of a giver rather than a taker. It is the impulse that makes us cry when we feel moved by another’s pain or show reverence when we feel awe at another’s goodness or feel humbled when we see the beauty of another’s work. Character traits can be strengthened through education. This form of education refers not only to the way the student relates to other individuals but also to the whole of humanity and to the self, for the more a person feels invested in the well being of others and committed to the greater good of all, the more instinctively he or she may apply many of the human virtues and ethics until they become habitual. The most effective, memorable teacher is often the one who serves as a luminary by not only holding the vision and looking for opportunities to reinforce it in the student but also by modeling it for the student.


Service Education: Service learning has become a popular phenomenon in some circles, as has character education, and yet the two are too often compartmentalized. In a truly integrated education program, character traits are painted in one stroke and applied in the next. An expression of compassion, for instance, becomes more than a word. It finds expression in acts of service that range from a silent deed to a lifelong career choice. A student may not imagine all the ways that a small act or a lifelong career can become a force for good. Again, the curriculum model as well as the teacher’s skill in presenting it helps the student make the link between these two holistically integrated aspects of human development. No learning unit is complete until the word is translated into action.


Academic Education: Basic skill areas never remain “areas” at all in integrated education, at least not in the Full-Circle Learning model of integrated education. They are seamlessly woven into the fabric of character education and service education. Everything that falls between the two is part of this fabric, whether it relates to finding a statistic to put on a chart, conducting an experiment to help a community solve a public health problem, or reading and evaluating a news story and writing a follow-up letter to thank a community hero. The skillful teacher uses the integrated education curriculum and classroom culture as a springboard for helping students make connections between the processes learned and their importance in community problem solving, improving the world’s conditions or showing gratitude. Most of the learning assignments end up as projects that connect the students to the world in meaningful ways as they build skills, linking character, cognitive and service learning.


Conflict Resolution Education: Problem-solving is an important skill, whether it relates to identifying and expressing emotions, resolving academic conflicts or preventing worker dissatisfaction and international disputes. Each character trait studied gives students an opportunity to incorporate a strategy for peaceful conflict resolution. It also nurtures communication skills that can assist in the overall integration process as students grow into leaders and mediators.


Arts Education: Rather than treat music and art as rigorous disciplines that stand alone and must be practiced independently of other school-day expectations, music and art can reinforce the themes and underscore the projects and performances in which students will showcase the four other areas of learning. Integrating arts education into character, academic and service education not only makes the other lessons more joyful and memorable but helps some students find a voice and venue for their talents. This, in turn enhances their studies in the other content areas related to the project, so their sense of the relevancy of their overall education improves. For the same reasons that a story is told in film with moving images and a soundtrack, the story of a student’s learning, when told with images and a soundtrack, often comes to life for him.



China and Full-Circle Learning

China is poised to become a showcase for integrated education—the place the world looks to discover its benefits and outcomes.  At the end of 2002, China’s 318 million students represented the largest educational system in the world. The plan for universal education has influenced rural literacy rates and raised that number ever higher since then.

The remarkable commitment to educational reform shown by the Chinese people has resulted in sweeping improvements in the quality of education at the primary, secondary and higher educational levels. The government has professed openness to new ideas, international collaboration, a desire to promote lifelong learning and a close integration between education and innovation in science and technology, economic construction, culture prosperity and social development.

This impressive commitment calls for educational models that connect learners to the society in which they live. It calls for enlightened teachers who want to do more than lecture but want to roll up their sleeves, look students in the eye, and captivate them with activities that stimulate their own personal development as well, with activities that help students see the relationship between academics and community-building and that teach students to honor the contributions of every member of society.

Parent surveys and observations of the influence of Full-Circle Learning on American students shows its capacity to: a) motivate gifted students to connect their academic lessons with authentic community needs and cultivate compassion for those needs; b) help shy or less recognized students find their preferred emotional connection to learning and giving back to society; c) help all students decrease competition-related stress and improve their performance as they honor the contributions of all; d) apply problem-solving skills from one content area to another, to practice ethical community leadership; e) develop life goals that link their own capacities and instincts to the needs of the societies in which they live; f) see teachers not only as conveyers of information but as role models; g) find deeper joy and meaning in life as they “find themselves” and yet “lose themselves” in service to others.

The Full-Circle Learning lesson plans present a series of activities that can help teachers educate their students and their communities as they explore universal truths, tap inner sensitivities, and connect the joy of giving with the process of cognitive learning.  In some cases, China’s classrooms of students, already eager to learn, may not need to shift their school day very much to emphasize the core values Full-Circle Learning promotes. The outcome could enhance the educational reform already set in motion in this vast country of great potential. As the world watches, China can set the example for training teachers to truly connect their students to the world in a way that cultivates a generation of empathic, ethical leaders and professionals who excel in their fields and who also bring new problem-solving skills to their participation in the local and global community.


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*Samples of Full-Circle Learning Site Evaluations

Full-Circle Learning sites conduct assessments through anonymous parent surveys and, in some cases, school surveys and independent academic assessments. The assessments below are offered as samples of the results of three site evaluations taken during the same time period in 2004, representing three different population groups. The reports of student growth in multiple areas are consistent with reports from earlier years at these sites and at other sites serving other populations or socio-economic groups.


Site 1: Parent Assessments (Short- and Long-term) and Independent Academic Assessments


Academic Improvement

Independent academic assessments showed grade equivalency increases in 75% of the students, based on median scores in Math, Reading, Spelling and Vocabulary (based on WRAT-3 and Gray Oral Reading tests). These results were consistent with the 75% or better increase in grade equivalency over five years of assessing new students. Exit exams of multiple-year students tend to show multiple-grade increases.

Parent Assessments (Short- and Long-term):

Improvements Reported in

Students Enrolled for one School Year or Less – Spring 2004

Parents were asked yes or no questions with the option of explaining their responses. Almost every parent wrote in many positive comments throughout the survey. An answer or section left blank was counted as no improvement.


Enhancement of two or more of the following social skills: 100%

Enhancement of all of the following social skills: 37.5%

  • Ability to see others’ points of view
  • Desire to serve and help others
  • Desire to participate in group activities
  • Tendency to express compassion or generosity
  • Desire to strive for leadership but not at the expense of others
  • Ability to resolve conflicts
  • Tendency to take responsibility or accountability for his or her own behavior
  • Sense of how his or her own actions, plans, skills and goals positively influence others less fortunate.


Sample Comments:

“My child, as well as her siblings, has learned to be more giving, especially to those in need.”

“…has grown to be more helpful, especially to elderly people.”

“…is beginning to respect his classmates more.”

“…is beginning to really understand the importance of making the right choices and is now accepting responsibility for the choices.”

“…knows when someone is in need of food, clothes or shelter…always wants to give to others on the street.”

Global or cultural issues: 75%

Sample Comments:

“My children have taken much interest.”

“…noticeable growth.”

Goal setting or approach to lifelong learning: 87.5%

Sample Comments:

Is beginning to have more focus on the work that will be useful in his future learning.”

“My children are now constantly talking about the future.”

Critical thinking skills: 87.5%

Sample Comments:

“My son is able to say what happens and guess what the outcome might be.”

Reading, Writing, Spelling and/or Vocabulary Skills: 100 %

Sample Comments:

“There have been improvements in all areas listed. You do a wonderful job!”

“…is speaking with big words that he learned from the program.”


Math: 100%

Sample Comments:

“…is managing his time while completing his math.”


Scientific issues: 75%

Sample Comments:

“…has been able to tell family members and others what certain processes do.”

“…significant improvement.”


Musical or artistic capacities: 100%


Sample Comments:

“…is more confident with singing; because of his deep voice, he didn’t like to


“[both children] have grown to love the arts.”

“…loves to do different types of performance and is learning more different

cultures’ ways of doing so.”

“…more open to becoming an artist and doing art projects at home.”

General Comments:

“My children have become much more creative and open to express their thoughts.”

“Just keep doing what you are doing to help my child respect and to give.”

Improvements Reported in Students Enrolled for 18 months or longer

Enhancement of two or more of the following social skills: 100%

Enhancement of all of the following social skills: 50%

  • Ability to see others’ points of view
  • Desire to serve and help others
  • Desire to participate in group activities
  • Tendency to express compassion or generosity
  • Desire to strive for leadership but not at the expense of others
  • Ability to resolve conflicts
  • Tendency to take responsibility or accountability for his or her own behavior
  • Sense of how his or her own actions, plans, skills and goals positively influence others less fortunate.



Sample Comments:

“…more confident, compassionate, understanding, tremendous total growth.” “…more open-minded, kind and sharing, and responsible for his behavior.”

“…from being shy to very outgoing, takes the initiative in every aspect of her life.”

“..takes the leadership role, but never ties to hurt others.”

“…compassionate and will give you her last.”

“…gets along better with everyone.”

“…considers others’ points of view.”

“…always wants to help.”

“…understands that everyone may not be as fortunate as others.”


Goal setting or approach to lifelong learning: 87.5%

Sample Comments:

“…more effort in goal planning.”

“The bridge program helps. He uses it at home.”

“He attacks his homework each night with enthusiasm.”

“My child has grown and sets goals and completes them on a timely basis.”

“He loves to write. He even wrote a letter to an author asking questions on how she got started.”


Critical thinking skills: 87.5%

Sample Comments:

“…more improved effort to problem solving.”

“There are many more questions being asked.”

“He now has good reasoning skills. He can analyze his behavior.”

“He has matured as a young man, and I know the program played a part in that.”

“He analyzes every scenario in his homework and notices when things don’t make sense.”

“He’s always been like that, and he’s growing.”

Reading, Writing, Spelling and/or Vocabulary Skills: 87.5 %

Sample Comments:

“…reads with confidence and fluency.”

“…writing skills have improved tremendously.”

“…uses and understands a bigger variety of words now.”


Math: 75%

Sample Comments:

“…has increased his love and understanding of math.”

“…much more confident in her math.”


Global or cultural issues: 75%

Sample Comments:

“…is very expressive and aware.”

“…can now speak confidently about these issues.”

“…very aware of other countries and cultures.”

Scientific issues: 75%

Sample Comments:

“…enjoys going to those classes and comes home and teaches me.”

“It’s amazing how well-rounded she has become, and the interest varies.”


Musical or artistic capacities: 100%


Sample Comments:

“More animated and eager to participate.”

“Sings with heart.”

“Has become very creative.”

“Has become less critical of his own artistic creations.”


General Comments:

“The program is perfect.”

“The program was complete and totally beneficial to my family.”

“Most of all, an overall awareness of well being and effort in social skills.”


Site 2: Teacher Evaluations

School-day Teachers’ Evaluations of

Their Students Who Attend the After-school Program

Compared to Their Students Who Do Not Attend the Program


Students who were observed to show:

Increased compassion, empathy or ability to get along with others: 100%

Increased ability to resolve conflicts: 100%

Enhanced global awareness: 80%

Greater accountability than the average student: 80%

Greater self-management: 80%

Increased motivation to learn: 60%

Improvement in basic skill areas: 60%

Increased leadership skills: 60%

Site 3: Parent Assessments

Anonymous Parent Surveys from Non-English Speaking Parents of Students from 2 – 17


Parents observed positive changes in their children in the following areas over the course of a summer:


Motivation to learn: 100%

Art: 75%

Science: 62.5%

Music: 62.5%

Conflict Resolution: 47.5%

Compassion for Others: 25%

Geography: 25%


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