Long before she became a teacher in a classroom or yoga studio, St. Columbkille Catholic School early childhood and pre-k teacher Holly Flood knew that she wanted to work with children.
Growing up, she thought she was going to be a pediatrician until she declared art as her major in college.
“I thought maybe I’d be an art teacher,” Flood said. “Then, I ended up in New York City, working in an art gallery. It was a little off-course from what I originally planned.”
Although it was exciting, she had a moment of clarity when she was on the phone with the gallery’s art handler, trying to get a painting.
“It was such an ordeal, and it made me think, ‘I don’t know if I’m super happy in this capacity,’” she said.
A stint doing volunteer work would become another telltale sign that she didn’t want to be in the world of retail.
“I volunteered through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America,” Flood said. “I was put in a kindergarten classroom with a little girl, once a week, and we played games or I read to her, and I just loved being in that environment.”
After that, it all began to click.
“New York was fun, but it was a different world,” she said. “Once I got my foot in the door through volunteering, I was like, ‘Oh, I think the classroom is calling me now.’ So, I decided to get my teaching degree.”
Before she became a full-time teacher, Flood also went back to the yoga studio full-time and volunteered in her daughter Maggie’s preschool classroom to teach yoga. But ultimately, it was the classroom that kept pulling Flood toward becoming a teacher.
“During that time, I had Maggie and a brand new baby, and I was like, ‘This is what my calling is,’” she said. “I’m glad that I discovered how to bring my love for yoga and all of the mindfulness stuff into my classroom.”
Despite having taught up to fifth grade in her student teaching, she wanted to be in pre-k.
“I love working with the little kids and their little minds,” Flood said. “There’s something about kids at that age that is so genuine, and I love how excited they are to learn and how everything is something new.”
She admitted that one of the best things is feeling like a celebrity when her students see her at the grocery store.
“They give you hugs, and there is so much excitement that it makes teaching very exciting, too,” Flood said.
The most rewarding feeling is when she sees the growth through learning.
“My favorite thing is when I see a connection being made,” Flood said. “When you see that light bulb go on and when they make progress on something.”
When she isn’t putting together creative lesson plans for her students, you can find her instructing yoga classes at B-1 Yoga Studio in Dubuque.
“I started practicing yoga over 10 years ago, but in 2013, I got my 200-hour yoga teacher certification for adult classes at Body and Soul,” she said. “Then, I got my kids yoga certification last summer at Challenge to Change.”
Of course, teaching yoga to adults and yoga to kids are different styles of the practice.
“With adults, you do a sequence of poses with a theme, but in a kids yoga class, we read a story with a lesson behind it,” Flood said. “Then, we put some yoga poses to the story, do some breathing and then we have our yoga nap.”
Perhaps what makes her unique as a teacher is her interpretation of mindfulness and self-awareness that she brings to her students.
“Sometimes, I’ll bring in that mindfulness and awareness through yoga poses in the classroom,” Flood said. “If we’re reading a story, we’ll retell it with different poses. It teaches them body awareness but also helps them remember the moral of the story.”
The method also helps the students tune in, calm down and focus.
“I’ll have them sit, close their eyes and listen for certain sounds,” Flood said. “Again, that mindfulness helps them listen, but it also helps them identify their emotions, how they’re feeling and to take deep breaths.”
St. Columbkille Catholic School administrators also have taken notice of her original teaching techniques.
“She’s always striving to make herself better by coming up with new ideas,” said Marcy Weidenbacher, director at St. Columbkille’s Early Childhood. “She’s always one step ahead with how she can help her kids.”
Improvement is something Flood constantly looks for, not just in what she’s teaching the kids but how she’s teaching them.
“She incorporates yoga for self-regulation and exercise,” Weidenbacher said. “The kids learn mudras, which are hand signals for different feelings and emotions. At this age, it can be hard for kids to put their feelings into words, but mudras can communicate those feelings.”
St. Columbkille Catholic School principal Barb Roling agreed that Flood’s enthusiasm stands out.
“She really just has a love for what she’s doing,” Roling said. “She has this gentle way of looking at kids and educating them.”
One of Flood’s strengths is connecting with students.
“She really gets to know her kids and she has this good way of bringing out the best in them,” Roling said.
Flood created a music wall with the help of her kids and some parents. She got a few dads to help put it together, and she collected items such as empty water bottles and buckets from her students.
“That was her brainchild,” Roling said. “She really looks at multi-sensory ways of learning.”
In the end, Flood realized the effects that the mindfulness of yoga brought to her were things that kids could benefit from as well.
“All of that social and emotional stuff is so important, and sometimes, we forget that we have to teach them how to regulate and tune in to it,” she said. “The way that I use yoga as an adult made me notice that kids really need it, too.”
Maddie McCarron writes for the Telegraph Herald.