About Jennifer Sommerness, Ed.S.

_MG_8713I am an educational consultant, research associate, author, teacher and advocate with a background in inclusive education, educational administration, teacher leadership and professional development. I work across the nation with with teachers, administrators and families to create collaborative school cultures and engaging school experiences for each and every learner.

Through my work I have authored several articles, curricula, a book chapters, and online materials (including online university courses) about distance learning, specifically designed instruction, systems change, collaborative teams, teacher leadership, inclusive education, and professional development to improve schools.

I work closely with families, teachers, administrators and community members to create schools that have the capacity to support students, especially those with significant cognitive disabilities or complex behavioral support needs; using innovative, universally designed learning strategies within the general education classroom community.

My abbreviated professional vita is listed below (contact me to obtain a full vita or for a list of references):


Jennifer Sommerness, Ed.S.

Research Associate, TIES Center, University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration

Independent Educational Consultant, Welcome Spoken Here


Ed.S. Educational Administration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

M.A. Educational Administration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

B.S. Special Education, Pre-K through 12th grade, University of Wisconsin, Madison

My professional mission is to promote the inclusive education of each and every student within general education classrooms and contexts, including students with the most extensive support needs, through development of supportive instructional design, effective team collaboration, and enhanced teacher capacity. This will promote individuals to be successfully engaged, challenged and respected throughout their various learning and community settings and schools, increasing positive adult outcomes and independence throughout their lives.

Professional Staff Development Post Baccalaureate Certificate, University of Minnesota, Educational Policy and Administration.

Teacher Certification Licensure (PK-12th grade, Cognitive Disabilities) Previously licensed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and New Mexico.


University of Minnesota, Research Associate, TIES Center at the Institute on Community Integration, College of Education and Human Development. Conduct research on issues related to the instruction and assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities. TIES Center is the National Technical Assistance Center on inclusion and disability policy. The purpose of the TIES Center is to create sustainable changes in school and district educational systems so the students with significant cognitive disabilities can fully engage in the same instructional and non-instructional activities as their general education peers while being instructed in a way that meets their individual learning needs. January 2021 to present.

Welcome Spoken Here™, Owner and Independent Educational Consultant. Provide consultation, Independent Educational Evaluations, professional development, technical assistance and job-embedded instructional coaching to increase inclusive educational opportunities for students with significant disabilities. Consultation spans individual student, instructional team, school and district-wide level strategies and systems change initiatives. Nationwide consultations as well as concentrated influence within/across the state of Minnesota. Details about scope, experiences, references and specific work that has been provided is available upon request, with strict consideration of confidentiality for the stakeholders represented. May 2004 to present.

TIES Center, Consultant, Contracted for technical assistance content and product development, collaboration with researchers, and present at professional development events (conferences, webinars and meetings). Member of Distance Learning Series Leadership Team. October, 2019 to present. 

Kids Included Together, Executive Director, Inclusive Schools Division. Executive leadership position, responsible for business strategy, budgetary development, curriculum planning and production, and execution of services for K-12 online, in-person and job-embedded disability inclusion and behavioral support professional development nationwide. Supervised staff in relation to specific project activities and curriculum development. May, 2018 – June, 2019.

University of St. Thomas, Adjunct Professor. Department of Teacher Education. Teaching Masters level methods courses of university students seeking teacher licensure; supervision of Masters level clinical practice. January, 2017 – June, 2019.

Expert Witness, Meyers and Flowers, LLC., St. Charles, IL. Review educational records, medical records, depositions and other pertinent documentation and give expert opinion regarding the instructional planning, educational opportunities, individual student support needs, and professional development recommendations. August 2019-present.

Minnesota State Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP). Served a four-year, Governor
appointed term from August, 2011- August 2015. Serving Vice-Chair (2013-2014), Chair (2014-2015).

Teaching Assistant, Administration of Teaching and Learning; J. York-Barr, professor, University of Minnesota.

Teaching Assistant, Collaboration in Heterogeneous Schools; J. York-Barr, professor, University of Minnesota.

Research Assistant for following grant, University of Minnesota: York-Barr, J., & Ghere, G. A systems approach to paraprofessional development and support. Awarded by U.S. Department of Education.

Middle School Special Education Inclusion Facilitator and Teacher, Albuquerque Public Schools, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 6th -8th grade students with emotional, behavioral, learning and mild to moderate cognitive disabilities.

High School Special Education Teacher and Inclusion Facilitator, College Community School District, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Students with moderate to severe cognitive disabilities in inclusive vocational, community, and general education settings.

High School Special Education Teacher and Inclusion Facilitator, Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, Wisconsin. Students with severe to profound cognitive and physical disabilities in inclusive vocational, community and general education settings.

Educational Consultant for Project CHOICES/Early CHOICES; Federal grant funded through the Illinois State Board of Education. Focus of work was planning, implementing and creating systems change around inclusive practices for students with disabilities within general education classes and settings for over 200 districts and schools in northern Illinois, including Chicago Public Schools.

Community Connections, Bay Area, CA. Consultation including review and revision of IEPs, assessing needs of individuals and families moving to the Bay Area to find and secure appropriate school placements and services.

Vocational Coach, Partnership Resources, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. Supported adults with cognitive and physical disabilities in inclusive community work settings.

Community and Vocational Coach, United Developmental Achievement Center, Duluth, Minnesota. Supported adults with cognitive and physical disabilities and mental illness in various community and vocational settings.

Project Cornerstone reader and asset-building volunteer, California Bay Area Public Schools.

Minneapolis Public Schools, MN. Lake Harriet Community School, Educational Council Member.


Vandercook, T., Ghere, G., Taub, D., & Sommerness, J. (November, 2020). Strategies for Successful Delivery of Hybrid Education. Ocaliconline 2020 Virtual Conference.

Ghere, G., Sommerness, J. (November, 2020). Pivoting Between Paraprofessional Support in Inclusive Schools and Distance Learning. National Down Syndrome Congress Webinar.

Taub, D., Sommerness, J., Ghere, G., Vandercook, T., & Hartman, E. (August, 2020). Distance Learning, Online Learning and Students with Disabilities: How Do We Do It?. ASCD Back to School Virtual Conference.

Sommerness, J. (August, 2020). 5C Process: Instructional Planning for School and Distance Learning for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities in Inclusive Environments. Visions and Voices Facebook Live Event.

Taub, J., Ghere, G., Sommerness, J., Vandercook, T., & Hartman, E. (July, 2020). Distance Learning, Online Learning and Students with Disabilities: How Do We Do It? ASCD Respond. Reimagine. Restart. Virtual Conference.

Ghere, G., Sommerness, J., & Vandercook, T. (July, 2020). 5C Process: Instructional Planning for School and Distance Learning for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities in Inclusive Environments. SOARS Summer Institute Virtual Conference.

Sommerness, J. (March, 2019 – present). 4 Virtual Workshops with Job-Embedded Coaching Facilitation Sessions. Content focus: 5C Process; 5-15-45 Tool; Strength-based IEPs; Grading and Assessment; Person-Centered Planning; and Paraprofessional Roles and Responsibilities. Northern Suburban Special Ed District, Highland Park, IL.

Sommerness, J. (October, 2018). Partners in Policymaking: Inclusive Education Session. Possibilities in Inclusive Education – Including Historical Context. Bloomington, MN.

Sommerness, J. (July, 2019). What Success Looks Like. Wisconsin Department of Instruction Inclusion Summit/Conference. Keynote presenter. Wausau, WI.

Sommerness, J. (June, 2019). Collaboration Tools Everyone Can Use. Transforming Care Experience Conference, Gillette Children’s Hospital, Family Voices MN, Minnesota Department of Health. Keynote presenter. St. Paul, MN.

Sommerness, J. (March, 2019). What Success Looks Like. EdTalk for Achieve Minneapolis. Minneapolis, MN. https://youtu.be/k3nZimayJNk

Sommerness, J. (January, 2019). What Success Looks Like. Poway Public Schools Inclusive Education Conference. San Diego, CA.

Sommerness, J. (July, 2018). What Success Looks Like. iSummit Inclusive Leadership Conference, Elmbrook Public Schools. Featured Speaker. Elmbrook, WI.

Sommerness, J., Robinson, G. (December, 2017). What Success Looks Like. International TASH Conference. Atlanta, GA. 

Sommerness, J. (August, 2017). What Success Looks Like. Syracuse University Summer Leadership Institute. Featured Speaker. Syracuse, NY. -What Success Looks Like: Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, Brooklyn Center, MN

Ignite Minneapolis: Why Special Ed Isn’t; Minneapolis MN

What Success Looks Like: Naperville Public Schools, Naperville, IL

Hawaii 504: Best Practices for Writing 504 Plans, and How to Effectively Collaborate with Parents, Elk River, MN

Student Centered Planning and Learning. Educator’s Conference, Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota.

“Working IEPs”: How to Effectively Write IEPs that Work in Inclusive Classes and Environments. Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

Social Inclusion: Not Just a Seat in the Class. Inclusive Schools Week, Palo Alto, CA.

Effective Collaboration with Paraprofessionals. St. Paul Public Schools, Increasing Student Achievement: Collaboration and Differentiated Instruction Conference.

Towards More Inclusive Settings. St. Paul Public Schools Early Childhood Education Programs Professional Development Series.

Including Samuel. St. Paul Public Schools Early Childhood Programs Professional Development Series.

Four half-day presentations for paraprofessionals, adapted from Job-embedded paraprofessional development: A training curriculum for special educators. St. Paul Public Schools, Early Childhood Programs Professional Development Series.

Job-embedded paraprofessional development: A training curriculum for special educators.This presentation has been given at the following locations:

  • Naperville Public Schools, Naperville, Illinois
  • Fosston Public Schools, Fosston, Minnesota
  • Orono Public Schools, Orono, Minnesota
  • White Bear Lake Public Schools, Minnesota
  • Mounds View Public Schools, Minnesota
  • St. Paul Public Schools, Minnesota
  • Palo Alto Unified School District, Palo Alto, California
  • Valley Crossing Community School, Woodbury, Minnesota.
  • Anoka Hennepin School District, Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
  • IL-TASH Let’s Reach Everyone Conference, Naperville, Illinois.
  • National Staff Development Council (NSDC) Conference, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • National Conference of the Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities (TASH), Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, Wisconsin.

What do the movies have to say about inclusion? This presentation has been given at the following locations:

  • National Conference of the Associations for Persons with Severe Disabilities (TASH), Chicago, Illinois.
  • National Conference of the Associations for Persons with Severe Disabilities (TASH), San Francisco, California.

School and Community Inclusive Education

Special Education law, mediation, facilitation and advocacy

Professional Development and Professional Learning Communities within schools

Differentiated and Universally Designed Instruction

Collaboration and Co-teaching

Teacher Leadership

School and Organizational Change

Paraprofessional Supervision and Professional Development in Inclusive Settings

Creating Positive Behavioral Supports

Transition planning for students with disabilities

Interagency coordination and planning

Learning Forward (formerly National Staff Development Council)


Arc of Greater Twin Cities

ARC of Minnesota

Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota

National Down Syndrome Association

Council for Exceptional Children



Downhill Skiing

BWCAW Camping