In this article, Howard Blas, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England and a member of the inaugural cohort of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows – Leading Educators Online, describes the challenges, successes and benefits of an online Community of Practice for directors of eight Ramah overnight and day camps in the United States and Canada.
After describing the challenges of establishing the Community of practice, Blas describes its functioning in the present and hopes for the future:
"The CoP is up and running, and the directors are in the habit of posting questions to the group (on Google groups) and sharing resources. It is still difficult to pick a day and time which will work for directors living in different time zones, and with different off season jobs and work hours. The group is slowly getting more comfortable with the new technology, but we all feel the technology can malfunction unexpectedly at any time.
The directors have a sense that we are “all in the same boat” in so many ways and have much to offer each other. It is comforting to know that we are all dealing with similar issues – from funding and staffing issues to camper sexuality issues. The CoP will continue to meet by video conference every six weeks. The National Ramah Director will work with each overall camp director to help fund an in-person meeting at one camp each summer – this will allow each director to observe a special needs program “in action” and meet with fellow directors.
Creating and sustaining online CoPs are challenging, but they are worth the effort. There is tremendous potential for CoPs to connect Jewish educational professionals in many different settings."