A Year in the Life: Being a School Steward

This is the second in an ongoing series about what it can look like to be an active, engaged ETFO member. Find the first entry here.

My first foray into union involvement was when I was encouraged to attend a monthly union meeting with the steward for my school. We went to the meeting, and there I listened to passionate educators discuss issues of importance in our local. I listened to my local president and released officers answer steward questions with compassion, patience, and wisdom.

When my steward asked me to be the official alternate a few weeks later, I was excited to take on the opportunity and learn more about being a steward. What does a steward do, exactly? 

Allow me to tell you a little bit about what it’s like to act as steward for your school. (The finer details of being a steward will vary from local to local, so keep that in mind.)

Attend regular union meetings. In my local, they’re held once a month. At those meetings, we hear updates from released officers on various issues in the board, committee reports, and equity presentations. We have an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. 

Forward key information to colleagues at school. As a steward, I receive information via e-mail and board mail that needs to be distributed to fellow ETFO members. This can include meeting minutes, info on upcoming PD opportunities, important memos about key issues (e.g., report card guidance), etc.

Support colleagues at the school level as needed. The most common type of support that I provide is through advice to colleagues when they ask me questions. Sometimes those questions go beyond my ability to answer, so I reach out to released officers. Sometimes, supporting my colleagues means helping them approach admin with concerns.

Defend the collective agreement. When ETFO members are asked to do something that contravenes our collective agreement, it’s my responsibility as steward to approach admin and have a discussion about it. I’ve been fortunate to have many excellent, supportive principals and vice-principals, so this has been a very rare part of my responsibilities.

Act as picket captain during job action. I’m sure picketing is fresh in most ETFO members’ minds this year. As picket captain, my responsibilities were mainly organizing shifts, getting information out to everyone, gathering questions, and making sure safety guidelines were being followed.

Being steward is a great opportunity to take on a leadership role in your school. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about your federation while helping your colleagues at the same time. If it’s something you think you might be interested in, chat with the steward at your school and see if you can tag along to a meeting some time!

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Updated: November 1, 2020 — 12:55 am

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4/5 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011. Former member of the ETFO New Members provincial standing committee. Current member of the OCETFO Collective Bargaining Committee.

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