Panthers of ISKL #193: Joanna Florento – The Empathetic Panther

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POISKL - Joanna Florento

“Watching the G8 students graduate from MS and move up into HS last year was incredibly moving. I felt nothing but pride in them as they walked across the stage and were welcomed into the next part of their ISKL journey.”

Meet Joanna Florento, an MS Counselor and Health teacher who joined the ISKL community in 2020. Originally from Manila, the Philippines, she studied in the US and worked in South Korea before joining ISKL. In her free time, Joanna dances classical ballet, sings, and loves to read, and is currently studying for her doctorate in social-emotional learning.

Here is Joanna’s story:

Please tell us more about yourself.

I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines, and moved to Connecticut, USA, to attend college when I was 16. Then, I moved to Boston for graduate school and enjoyed studying infant cognition and attachment behavior in a psychology lab before returning to the Philippines to start my career in international school counseling.

After a few years back home in the Philippines, I worked in South Korea before moving to Malaysia in 2020.

When and why did you join ISKL?

I had grown up hearing about ISKL and had known that it was a great school, but I had yet to have the opportunity to visit. When I saw the job opening, I applied for it without any expectations – it was the only school I applied to! I was the only counselor at my school in Korea, and even though I loved it, I was also seeking to be part of a strong counseling team to help me grow even further. I knew that ISKL was a special place because even though I moved here at the start of the pandemic, I felt supported by, and still very much a part of, the ISKL community. I was also attracted to ISKL’s vibrant culture and its commitment to SEL and DEIJ initiatives, which are topics I have always been curious about and continue to learn about daily while at ISKL.

Can you tell us more about your MS Counselor and Health teacher position? What are your daily activities?

What I love most about my job at ISKL is that no two days look the same! I treasure spending time with students in Health class daily, discussing various topics related to social-emotional learning, from building healthy friendships in Grade 6 Health to cultivating positive habits in Grade 7 Health to exploring holistic well-being in Grade 8 Health.

I also look forward to my daily meetings with students in one-on-one conversations or small group sessions. I love hearing about the ins and outs of their daily school lives and finding out how to best support them through the difficulties and challenges they may face. I value these interactions and believe that I learn as much from the students as they do from me.

Can you tell us something you are working on now that you are excited about?

Within school, I am very excited about working with other counselors and student services team members to improve our social-emotional learning (SEL) programming. It is a privilege to work with students as their counselor and their Health teacher, and I think these unique opportunities allow me to delve into how to promote students’ social-emotional development and provide more opportunities for adults at ISKL to engage with that process.

Outside of school, I am passionately working towards my doctorate… which is also about social-emotional learning!

What is the most enjoyable and most challenging part of your job?

I enjoy making meaningful connections with students and the lovely faculty and staff of Middle School (MS). A special shoutout goes to the amazing MS Counseling team! These connections are what make life at ISKL so meaningful and magical.

Joanna Florento & the MS Counseling Team

Honestly, the most challenging part of my job is balancing everything and managing my schedule when there are so many cool things I’d like to be a part of and only so many hours in one day.

Can you tell us more about your hobbies and interests? What do you do after work?

I grew up dancing classical ballet and continue to do so as an adult. Dance has always been a huge part of my life, and I love to push myself to grow as a dancer. I attend ballet and other dance classes four to five times a week. I also love to sing – I sang in acapella groups, choirs, and bands growing up, and I would love to find more opportunities to maintain this pursuit. I have always been an avid reader, so when I’m not dancing, singing, or hanging out with my rescue corgi, you will find me wandering around with my nose in a book, trying to do things one-handed.

Who or what inspires you?

My grandparents, Jose and Carmen Florento, are my biggest inspirations. Lolo Joe was a self-made man who grew up in poverty and instilled in me the value of education in lifting people out of difficult life circumstances. He always encouraged me to remember my roots and seek ways to help others, and he is the reason I am in the education field now. He was brilliant, compassionate, responsible, and gentle – a true beacon of light in my life. Lola Carmen is a vibrant, beautiful, radiant woman who enjoys dancing and connecting with others. She was a professor of chemistry and botany at an all-woman’s university, wrote a book, and competed in ballroom dancing well into her 80s. She is my rock and a living embodiment of musical peals of laughter.

Joanna Florento's Grandparents

What is your best memory (or most memorable moment) so far working at ISKL?

It’s hard to choose a favorite memory or moment. Something impactful to me was attending the graduation of the Grade 8 students last year. I had worked with them since they were in Grade 6, and I had just joined ISKL, so watching them graduate from MS and move up into High School was incredibly moving for me. It was very meaningful to reflect on how much they had grown, think back to all the laughs, hiccups, tears, and machinations of adolescent doom we shared, and feel nothing but pride in all of them as they walked across the stage and were welcomed into the next part of their ISKL journey.

Grade 8 Moving On Ceremony 2023

What does ‘“Know yourself, care for all, and create a better world”’ mean to you?

For me, it means to explore one’s individual potential while simultaneously reflecting on one’s connectedness with others. Recognizing one’s strengths is a stepping stone to realizing our potential to inspire that strength in others. I think it also relates to developing resilience because certain events will occur that might stretch our abilities to exercise our strengths; in that sense, caring for others also activates a community that can support you in times of need, and this will ultimately help us create a better world.


Do you know of any student, teacher, parent, or staff who always have an anecdote to tell, love to share some insights into their passions and interest, or simply is a Panther through and through? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here.

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