WATESOL is pleased to welcome our keynote speaker, Debra Suarez!

“Influence and Impact:  Remembering TESOL Leadership of the Past.  Reimagining Transformational TESOL Leadership for the Future.”

prepared for WATESOL’s 50th Anniversary Celebration

Dr. Debra Suarez

TESOL Board of Directors


At its core, the essential purpose of “leadership” is to have influence upon positive outcomes. 

Much has been written about “characteristics” of effective leaders or “styles” of leadership. While this is an important beginning of the conversation, it is not sufficient to help us understand how to inspire and create change in educational environments.  Moving beyond a description of “leaders” or “leadership,” we can begin to focus upon influential leadership behaviors, particularly as a framework for teacher leadership development and educational transformation.  “Transformational leaders” connect with others around core shared values and shared notions of positive change.  Transformational leaders inspire, motivate, and spur others to action, thereby impacting not only schools and schooling, but also impacting fellow staff, teachers, principals, students, parents, and communities. 

This presentation will share the foundational premises of “Transformational Leadership” as a framework for understanding effective TESOL leadership practices of the past, and for envisioning promising TESOL leadership practices for the future.   In celebration of WATESOL’s 50th Anniversary, special emphasis is placed upon remembering key contributions of WATESOL through the years, and its work at the forefront in professional development, advocacy, and the development of regional and national associations. Finally, building upon this historical context, this presentation will discuss innovative leadership behaviors that are necessary today amongst current teachers, teacher educators, and ESOL professionals, to take TESOL organizations – and the TESOL field – into the next fifty years.  By invoking foundational concepts from the “transformational leadership” framework, and by highlighting historical TESOL and WATESOL leadership success stories, this presentation aims to enable all TESOL professionals (K-12, Higher Ed, Adult Ed, Teacher Ed, and Program Administrators) to see themselves as leaders.  To believe themselves as leaders. Able to examine the challenges of their times.  To effect positive influence. And to inspire impact, for real change.

Dr. Debra Suarez

TESOL/TEFL Career Professional, National Advisor, International Consultant


With an unwavering belief in the power of education to change the world, Dr. Debra Suarez has dedicated her professional life to improving the educational experiences of ESOL/EFL students and teachers throughout the US and the world.

Debra holds a PhD in Language Education, and an MS-TESOL, both from the University at Albany, and an MBA degree, specializing in education business management from the University of Maryland.  Dr. Suarez is a published, peer-reviewed author, publishing two books, book chapters and journal articles. She has presented her work in conferences around the world and continues to publish and lecture on leadership development in educational contexts.

Debra started her career as an ESL/EFL classroom teacher and Director of the Language Lab at the College at New Paltz.  She started her work as a teacher educator when the fall of the Berlin Wall opened-up Eastern Europe to Western language teaching methodologies. After receiving her doctorate, she was a university professor, directing Ph.D. and MA-TESOL programs at the University of Maryland, The University of Alabama, and Notre Dame of Maryland University. Over the years, she served as English Language Specialist for the US Department of State, providing teacher training seminars around the globe, including West Africa, Eastern Europe, Mexico, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Southeast Asia. 

In her wish to expand her professional reach, Dr. Suarez joined US federal service. For the past eight years, Debra has served the nation’s ESL learners and teachers through her work across the federal government on issues related to adult English language learners, immigrants and cultural minorities. Dr. Suarez has provided leadership, strategic direction and project implementation in working groups with agencies, including, US Department of Education, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Department of Labor, the US Census Bureau, US Small Business Administration, US Office of English Language Acquisition, the White House Initiatives, the White House Domestic Policy Council and the White House Task Force on New Americans.


Teaching, coaching and mentoring newer professionals remain vital to Dr. Suarez. She has mentored hundreds of new ESL/EFL professionals who now serve the field throughout the US and the world.  Dr. Suarez was recently awarded Maryland TESOL’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Dr. Suarez currently serves on the Board of Directors for TESOL International Association.   Feel free to reach out to Debra at Debra.Suarez@gmail.com 

2023 Fall Conference Sponsors

Contact vicepresident@watesol.org for WATESOL sponsorship opportunities.


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