There are specific ways for both new and veteran teachers to take advantage of all varieties of in-service offerings to improve teaching in real, tangible ways that will impact your classroom throughout the year.
Learn from experts
In-service days can take a variety of shapes and sizes depending on your school, grade level, or district. There is a good chance that at least part of in-service will include an expert of some kind, whether it be a principal or school district official discussing basic rules and regulations, or a consultant brought in to discuss a specific topic. In both cases, there is information to be gained as a new teacher.
The basic rules and regulations of the school or district are essential to new teachers. You will need to know what forms to fill out and who to contact in certain situations. Take careful notes at this point to not only remember the most important facts but, more essentially, know who to ask when you have questions in the future.
It seems that all teachers have less than positive stories about outside professionals being brought into a school to lecture on a specific topic, and most of these stories include the teachers working on their own lesson plans or crossword puzzles. While that can be tempting, don't make the same mistake. There is something to be learned from these experts, but you might need to dig a little deeper to determine what that is. If you know the name of the group or lecturer beforehand, do research. Find out their background, education, and specialty, and make a list of questions beforehand that will be beneficial to your teaching. Come prepared and you will be more likely to succeed. After all, isn't that what we tell our students?
Learn from fellow teachers (and make connections)
Many veteran teachers agree that the most productive in-service days include teachers teaching teachers. After all, no one knows your school, grade level, subject area, etc, like your peers. Take advantage of their knowledge of all of these aspects and come to these sessions ready to learn.
While the professional development sessions themselves will likely be rich with information, use this time to seek out teachers who might be able to help you throughout the year. You might have a peer who is an expert at a new technology that has recently been implemented who can help you improve your skills, or if a veteran teacher gives a great lecture on classroom management, this might be someone to contact in the future and see if they are willing to observe your class (or a video recording of your class) and offer advice.
Also, you may find peers with similar interests who might be interested in starting a professional development book club or peer observation group to continue professional development beyond in-service days.
This is also a great time to look around for mentors. Mentorships can be invaluable for new teachers, and there is no better time to get an idea of who might be a strong mentor than at teacher in-service when everyone is learning together. High quality mentorship has been shown to lower the attrition rate of new teachers and the mentorship role can reinvigorate veteran teachers, so there are many benefits to this relationship.
Take advantage of choices offered
Some schools offer choices to teachers of in-service sessions and workshops, similar to what might be found at a conference. Peruse the offerings carefully and target your weak spots. Were there certain areas that you know you need to improve, based on last year's observations or student teaching feedback? Those are the sessions to attend.
Additionally, check out the speakers of the sessions and learn what they have to offer. It may help you narrow your choices between sessions, or find that mentor that was mentioned earlier. Remember to ask questions!
Evaluate and follow-up
After you've experienced in-service at your school for several years, you probably have a good idea of what will, or won't, be offered. Think back on those past experiences and determine what information was missing that would have been most helpful. If it isn't available during your in-service, there are a few options.
First of all, talk to whomever it is that plans the school's in-service to offer suggestions on future topics. It is possible that the in-service schedule has gotten a bit stale or the person planning the sessions isn't given much help or feedback. Constructively suggest some new topics, or new methods of delivery. If the last few years have focused on an outside speaker, suggest the teachers teaching teachers method, or vice versa. The planner will likely be grateful for your interest and assistance.
Secondly, there might be an outside workshop or conference that you can attend to help fill in the gaps of your professional development. Talk to your school administration to see if they are willing to help cover the cost of attendance, often done in exchange for a presentation on what you learned when you return, or at a future in-service date. Online professional development options are also available if in-person workshops or conferences are too cost-prohibitive.
There are many ways that in-service can improve your teaching, ranging from learning from external experts to learning from the teachers in the classroom next door. It might take some effort on your part, but be sure to research the sessions and/or speakers to make the most of your time. Use these professional development days to seek resources that you can utilize throughout the school year and beyond.