Out-STEM-ing Teacher Feature: Social Emotional Learning Saved My Life

Please enjoy our Out-STEM-ing Teacher Feature for August 2nd, 2021

Do you know an out-STEM-ing educator? Nominate them here! 

SEL for Everyone: Out-STEM-ing Educator, Tristan Love

Tristan Love Educator and SEL Expert Coding Robotics

Tristan Love is passionate about making school a safe and supportive place to learn, grow and develop. This passion is rooted in Tristan’s experience as an “at-risk” student and his experiences in a nurturing school while he experienced several traumatic events.

Love went from the Bloods to the books and a full scholarship to Wiley College to be part of the reincarnation of the Great Debaters. That scholarship was thanks to Denzel Washington’s $1 million donation. His first day at school at Sam Houston High is one that he could have never scripted.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t even think I would be alive right now,” said Tristan Love. “You’re talking about 2006. I’m glad I made it to 21. I’m 26. I feel like I’m living on house money now.”

At 12 years old, Love was the new kid on the block in the Allen Parkway Village Apartments. He made the only choice he thought he had: to become a blood.

“You join a gang so you can protect your family, you can protect what you have,” he explained to Eyewitness News.

“You Don’t Have to Fight, Come Here”

At the end of his freshman year at Lamar High School, he got into a fight with a Crip in the gym. That fight turned into an all-out brawl.

“I found out later that summer I wasn’t allowed to come back to Lamar,” he said.

Afraid of what his mother would say, he ran away from home and says he roamed the streets trying to stay out of trouble.

Over the next year, two of his close friends were killed. He moved with his dad in Fifth Ward and started school at Booker T. Washington. Someone broke into his house and burned it down. He believes that was gang-related. From that, he connected with a program called Communities in Schools, and a volunteer that made sure he didn’t drop out. Nanna Pat- as Tristan’s children now call her- drove him to a conference in Minneapolis and he came back with a fresh outlook on life.

The Tipping Point

“I can’t say that I was out of the streets. I can say that my 11th-grade year I was very serious about my education,” he said.

An injury kept him out of football and basketball that year. He randomly went with a close friend to watch her in a debate tournament. Her partner didn’t show up, so she pulled him in.

He was accepted to his dream school, Morehouse College. But the summer after graduation, he found out he and his friend earned a full ride to debate at Wiley College, home of the Great Debaters profiled in the 2007 movie starring Denzel Washington. The Academy-Award-winning actor funded the scholarships to bring the team back.

“They called us the Great Debaters 2.0.” 

After graduating from Wiley, he came home through Teach for America to teach biology at Sam Houston High. He began his fourth year in education as the assistant principal. He was only 26.

On the Other Side

Mr. Love says he’s been very open with his students about his past.

He’s been open with them about how he changed his life. He believes that openness and just being real with them has helped him get through.

“They can come to me, and they do come to me and ask how I navigate that system,” he said. “Like ‘yeah I’m trying to stop hanging out with this bad crowd. How do I get out of that? Yeah, I’m trying to stop being in a gang. How do I get out.’”

During his time as a classroom Biology teacher, Tristan’s “whole student” approach to teaching played an instrumental role in increasing student achievement, student morale, and appreciation for science. As an administrator at the same school, Tristan assisted the school in breaking a long streak of underperformance, as well as a decrease in severe discipline infractions, and recidivism in alternative school placements. Afterward, Tristan helped the district create and oversee a districtwide Disciplinary Alternative Educational Program (DAEP) that supported more than 50 high schools.

“My Purpose is to Serve”

His work as an educator and an administrator wrote his pathway as a Social-Emotional Learning advocate. In his personal and professional experience, he “saw a lot of adults who didn’t know how to support kids”. By creating a framework for staff-level SEL, the common vocabulary he established allowed staff to protect their own triggers and begin to examine how their own trauma impacted how they reacted to their students’ actions in the classroom. As a principal in Colorado Springs, Tristan continued his work in making school a safe and supportive place for students to learn, grow, and develop, as well as his staff.

In 2020, Tristan joined Project Wayfinder, as a way to support other districts in purposefully bringing SEL to their students and staff.

“My purpose is to serve my family and community so that we can continue to break negative generational cycles and expand opportunities for future generations.”

We recently spoke with Tristan about these topics and more. View the recorded webinar here. And see what ways you can use to bring these principles to your building, and to yourself.