Our school newspaper started out as a rag. The faculty advisor who founded it would happily tell you so. But that same advisor has turned it into a really high-quality middle school paper over the last eight or ten years. A lot of middle schools don’t even have papers; it’s her dedication to the project that makes it possible.

So I was honored when she asked me for an article describing Bill Sullivan’s and my keynote talk at Chase Collegiate School a week ago. She said, “Around here, it’s important news — a teacher delivers the keynote at a major conference?”  So I wrote up a little 600-word article that I thought would fit into the paper’s emerging style; and sent it off to her with a link to the presentation online, and a link to the the conference wiki.

Then she came back to me, to ask about using an image from the slideshow, and I got leery.  I mean, I can always take down a digital slideshow if someone gets all huffy about copyright at me.  I’m just a private person, and I don’t have much to take.   But a school is a school, and this is the school paper we’re talking about. And a school could have a lot to lose in a copyright fight.

But she didn’t want to have just any image. She wanted a very specific one… one that was a key to our presentation, and a key to drawing teachers to the conference. She wanted the one on this page.

So I contacted Dave Gray, the creator of the image.  Dave Gray is the principal of XPLANE.com, and we met first through his Flickr account and then through his .info site, and then through his blog, Communication Nation, and then in person at the Learning and the Brain conference at Avon Old Farms School two Augusts ago, where he introduced me to my friend Josh. Now we all communicate with each other (largely through Dave’s instigation), on Twitter.

Which is how I contacted Dave Gray.  Publicly, on Twitter. I asked if the school paper could use his image and print it in the paper.  I asked again, expressing the urgency of the matter. He asked which one. I explained that it was the one from the wiki of the conferenceHe said sure!

So consider… This is the FIRST time that our school paper has had to seek copy right permission from a creator outside our school. And we got it through direct contact with the creator. By Twitter.  In a public forum.

And how did the direct contact with the creator come about? Through me, a teacher, being a photographer interested in sharing my work, and looking at the work of others online; through me being an avid collector of information about visual thinking; and through contacting a web of community connections that stretches from the Arctic to Africa, from Flores Island to San Francisco, from the offices of XPLANE in St. Louis to my own school’s newspaper room.  By way of the internet.

So my school is pushing its school newspaper into the digital age, and providing them with a major new professional-level story, because of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) or whatever the kids are calling it these days.   I just call it “my friends.”  But there’s a parallel warning here, too.  You can shut down kids’ access to the internet by filter and fiat for as long as you like at your school.  But if the kids don’t have to use it in your school, your teachers will never learn to use the internet, either.  Their jobs won’t require it.  And if they don’t have to use it, they won’t.  So your teachers and administrators will never meet people like Dave Gray.  And neither will your students.

And that’s a huge loss for your school, your faculty, and your students.  Get out there and meet the world, people.  It’s time.