What is “hovering?” It’s a term used to describe an assignment in which a paraprofessional spends most, if not all, of his or her day working with a single student. The trouble is, such close attention can hinder a student’s overall development, as the student becomes too dependent, doesn’t branch out and explore, and doesn’t develop a sense of self.

HoveringWell, the solution is easy, right? Just reduce the amount of time you spend with the student, right? Hold on – it’s not always so easy. Paraprofessionals are usually monitoring a student closely because of specific issues. Perhaps a student can’t be safely left alone for more than a few minutes. In some cases, the student’s IEP dictates that someone must be present at all times.

However, research over the past decade and a half has shown that the disadvantages of hovering can be pretty profound:

  • The student may be less likely to form a friendship with other students because of the presence of the hovering adult.
  • The student is overly dependent on the paraprofessional and needs constant guidance to complete tasks.
  • In some cases, the paraprofessional is providing the bulk of instruction to the student (Vieira, p. 10) rather than the general education teacher.
  • The student’s relationship with the teacher may diminish. (Harrison, Schulz & Evans, Chapter 9) This can cause a whole new round of behavioral issues to address.

Ways to solve the issue:

  •  Advocate for a change to IEPs that emphasizes general support over one-on-one education if this less restrictive service would meet the student’s needs, or, at the least, state on the IEP that it’s important for the paraprofessional to allow the student appropriate opportunities for independent work with the classroom teacher, or with other students as long as there is paraprofessional oversight.
  •  Teachers and paraprofessionals could work together to highlight instances when the student could safely be allowed to work or interact independently. (Vieira, p. 10)
  • The student’s special education team should also work together, and with administrators if necessary, to make sure that the curriculum is being taught appropriately and that the bulk of teaching doesn’t fall on the para. (Vieira, p. 10)
  •  Train the paraprofessional how to systematically “fade” their presence and proximity so that the student is less reliant on them to help solve every single challenge. This slideshow has some good ideas for doing just that.
  •  Encourage more one-on-one interactions between the student and his or her peers. This could take the form of peer tutoring, for example.

Most importantly, communicate and be flexible! Each classroom has a different dynamic, a different setup and a different situation. Step back and take a look at how the paraprofessional is working with students in the classroom, and then collaborate to develop a strategy that works for the teacher and the para while reducing the amount of “hovering” that may be taking place. Doing so will help develop a closer working relationship between teacher and para, and help a student become more independent and confident. It’s a win-win for the entire classroom, and absolutely one of the best ways you can help students on an IEP achieve more in school.


Vieira, Michelle C.L., “The Successful Inclusion of Students with Autism in Regular Classrooms: A Literature Review”. Queen’s University Faculty of Education, Graduate Student Symposium Collected Papers, 2006-2007.

Harrison, Judith R., Schultz, Brandon K., Evans, Steven W., editors, School Mental Health Services for Adolescents, Chapter 9: “Working with Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” by Lynn Kern Koegel, Sunny Kim, and Robert L. Koegel.

Brisson, Anthony and LeBrun-Griffin, Michelle, “Helping vs. Hovering: When Paraeducators Work With Students” slideshow presentation, April 15, 2015.

More on Hovering from Janet Hull

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