The Importance of a Little Help From Your Friends

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld is an award-winning public school superintendent in the Chicago area. In addition to his current position, Dr. Lubelfeld is also a published author, national speaker, and adjunct professor.

While working as a middle school principal, Dr. Lubelfeld decided to return to school to earn his doctoral degree so that he could move up the ranks of administration. Now, he also works as an associate with Educational Leadership Solutions, an educational consulting firm that uses data to help school districts make informed decisions, develop strategic plans, and improve opportunities for students.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Dr. Mike Lubelfeld talks about how school systems have adapted to the current COVID-19 crisis
  • Why Dr. Lubelfeld decided to return to school and earn his doctoral degree
  • The major life events that Dr. Lubelfeld experienced while completing his dissertation
  • The importance of support when pursuing your doctoral degree
  • How Dr. Lubelfeld’s life changed after graduation
  • Dr. Lubelfeld discusses his work with Educational Leadership Solutions

In this episode…

If you’re a current or aspiring doctoral student, people may have warned you to be wary of major life changes while pursuing your degree. However, Dr. Mike Lubelfeld, an award-winning superintendent, experienced a promotion, a marriage, and the birth of his first child while earning his doctoral degree.

Though he attributes his success to his tenacity and drive, Dr. Lubelfed also believes that the support he received along the way played a major part in his achievements. As Dr. Lubelfeld says, a strong support system is crucial when completing your dissertation. While this should include your family members and friends, it’s also helpful to have a mentor who has already earned their doctoral degree to guide you through this tricky process.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Russell Strickland is joined by Dr. Mike Lubelfeld, the Superintendent of Schools for North Shore School District 112. Dr. Lubelfeld discusses his vast career experience and his journey to earning his doctoral degree. He also shares his advice for getting through the dissertation process and talks about the doors that opened for him after earning his degree. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done!
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.

Intro  0:03

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy 1% out there, who earned their doctoral degrees, and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. here’s your host, astrophysicist, teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more. Dr. Russell Strickland.

Dr. Russell Strickland  0:28

Hi, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, the host of An Unconventional Life Podcast where I feature the unconventional lives of the 1%, who went out and got their doctoral degrees as an adult, and then went on to leverage them in crazy, cool, exciting, and unconventional ways. Today, I have Dr. Mike Lubelfeld fell with us. And he has quite the interesting background he is currently a superintendent in the Chicago area, he has went back and earned his doctoral degree when he was a middle school principal. And he’ll tell you the story about all the rules that he broke along the way to get that done. But he did that so that he can move up in administration. He has gone on to be, you know, an assistant superintendent, the superintendent, he is now part of a really cool new group of folks that are consulting in the educational space. We’ll talk about that. Just a lot of things that that that I’m interested in talking with Dr. Mike about today, you guys are going to have a great time in this podcast is going to be a wonderful episode. Before we get started, I’d like to remind you that as always, this episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done, we help students who want to live their unconventional life by earning their doctoral degrees and leveling up their career to get your dissertation done. So whether you feel like things are going a little bit slow, you’re stalled or just playing stuck. If you need help getting your dissertation done, reach out to us at That’s we’ll see if you might be a good fit for our Fast Track Your Dissertation coaching program, where we tend to get our students graduated a good year or two faster than they want on their own. And if you are living your unconventional life, and you want to get your message out there, perhaps you can reach out to us and see if a book is in your future. Our Expand Your Authority Program takes folks from idea or just I’d like to have an idea all the way through to a published book, so that you can get your authority out there in the marketplace. And you can find out more about that by going to So that’s our sponsorship message. And now for the fun part. Dr. Mike, welcome. Welcome, welcome. How are you doing today?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  2:43

It is great to be here, Dr. Strickland, thank you so much for giving me the chance to spend some time with you. I’m doing great feeling good and excited to be here to talk about my unconventional life.

Dr. Russell Strickland  2:54

That is awesome. I can’t wait. We are right now hopefully this podcast will live long after this. But right now, we’re in the middle of COVID. Still, and you guys have just started school? How is that going? I know I’ve got kids here at home. No else going to mind? How’s that going for you guys?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  3:12

Well, I am so proud of our teachers, our support staff, our administrators, our maintenance folks, our board our parents, it is going well now knock on wood, we were in our fourth week of hybrid with an in person learning model 50% of the kids in the morning, the other 50% in the afternoon with virtual learning sprinkled throughout, it’s going surprisingly well. We’ve completely changed our business model. And again, fingers crossed that community spread stays low so we can stay open.

Dr. Russell Strickland  3:41

I have been so impressed at just a number of different schools that are all doing things in different ways. But I’ve been very impressed at how we talked to folks in I belong to a coaching group of business owners people that that kind of run their own businesses. And when COVID hit we were talking about how are we going to pivot? What are we going to do differently now because the world has kind of changed. school systems have done such a great job of pivoting. I think my kids are part of the biggest school system in North Carolina. And they have done an excellent job. They’re all the students are virtual right now. But the kids are it’s like they’re in class, it seems it really does. With the exception of the community. So that’s been awesome. Um, but thank you guys so much for all that you do. All educators out there. You guys are really doing an impressive job with the hand that was dealt to you. I know in our school system. I felt like they were caught flat footed. Last year, it seemed like once this thing hit and nothing really happened in school for the rest of the year honestly. But then they had some time to regroup and figure things out. And then I think it’s been a home run here in our district and I’m glad to hear you guys are doing really well at this point as well. And like you said knock wood And continues to go well, I know one of our students that Dissertation Done, we’re working together right now on her dissertation project, which involves collecting some data from classrooms, in our school system. And we’re working on strategies to get the data right now, because let’s hope we’re still in school in a month or in two months or three months, but let’s get the data now agreed right about that. So anyway, thank you guys. Let’s get talked about your doctoral journey. Okay, take me back to before you even decided to enroll in your doctoral degree, tell me what was going on in your life. And what made you decide, hey, let me take this crazy step and see about going back to school as an adult. Who’s in the middle of my career now?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  5:47

Well, I’ll tell you life was way simpler before I enrolled in that doctoral program. And life was way simpler, because I was an associate principal at a middle school. And I was single. And although I was in my late 20s, early 30s, I had always had coaches, guides and mentors throughout my career that have helped me see things that I couldn’t see or they’ve helped see around corners that I couldn’t yet see around, or they saw things in me that motivated them to help motivate me. So one of the most instrumental people in my professional and personal life is Jim Newland, he was an assistant principal at the first school where I started teaching back in the early 90s. So Jim had always said, Go get your administrative credentials, go get a doctorate become a superintendent, all this stuff. And I’m like, Jim, really, I’m kind of like teaching and doing my own thing and love being single and fun. Anywho I was an associate principal. So I had gotten my administrative degree in job and all that. And something just motivated me to say, Well, I could probably see down the horizon of being a principal, I could sit on the horizon of going up in central office and who knows what else. So I threw my application out there. landed at Loyola University Chicago go Ramblers from now they’re famous. Yeah. And I started in one of the first cohort doctoral programs they had ever had in the Ed.D. Doctor of Education Program. Well, this was made up of a bunch of Ph.D. professors, who on one hand, it kind of looked a little suspiciously at the Ed.D. in of itself has been a professional doctoral degree. And they were like, this cohort is going to be harder, because we’re really going to see if you all can make it now again, I was single pretty successful early in my career. I really didn’t have much else going on. So I was fully motivated, Dr. Strickland, this was it. That’s right one I swear they made us read like eight books and you know break back rewrite them just to see who among us was strong enough crazy enough you know endurance enough to handle it from Sengeh to Fullan to Sergiovanni. You know, you name it we can put up with for educational doctrines put up all the Yeah, well, you supposed to know, even Bruner and Ben Bloom.

Dr. Russell Strickland  8:15

It’s kind of like Mike Tyson. Right. Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  8:19

We got punched. Whoa, it was nuts. So we had the cohort. So we had support. And I really emphasize that because again, I was a single guy. Yeah, this was my life. Every you know, Friday night, Saturday, whatever the deal was, this was it. And I was reading and doing all this stuff, and writing and learning. You know, this wasn’t masters level stuff. And this wasn’t anything I’d ever experienced. During the time I broke every rule there was now I read, um, Publish or Perish. I read Doing Your Dissertation in 10 Minutes a Day. So you know, we kept all that going. They started us with writing the lit review and haven’t read that. By

Dr. Russell Strickland  8:59

the way. Can you tell me exactly how you do your dissertation in 10 minutes a day, because I’ve helped like over 300 students through this process. And I’ve never told him one of them. You just put aside 10 minutes a day and it’s going to happen. Is this like 10 minutes a day for like 34 years? Or what is what was the key to that book?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  9:16

It’s a conceptual 10 minutes, my friend.

Dr. Russell Strickland  9:24

Yeah, see, that’s that’s one of those that I like to have a little bit of truth in advertising. You’ll get your dissertation done in 10 minutes a day. I’m like, I just can’t motivate myself to read that. So

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  9:34

no, you’re so funny. Yeah, you totally clueless. Yeah, no, it’s conceptual. But I’ll tell you throughout the process, believe it or not, I found the love of my life and got married. I became a principal during this crazy experience. And my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world. And there’s a picture of her probably as a six month old baby nine month old baby at graduation where I’m wearing the hat and the probes and everything. The bottom line is they said, Be careful and be wary of major life changes. When you’re in your studies I had about every life change, you can have we moved everything.

Dr. Russell Strickland  10:15

I’ll tell you that picture. I have three kids, okay, they are right now tend to fit to 14 years old. My son, I have a picture of him. He was born. In December, I defended and graduated in April. And in August, we had was my commencement halfway across the country and my wife, my brother, and I, and our new son drove up there for commencement, I have a picture of me holding him where I’m wearing the silly gown and everything. And he’s got the little hat. And he was like, eight months old is still one of my favorite pictures, you know, thousands of pictures later. So those are the those are the memories. And we didn’t realize at the time Well, I guess we did by then realize that we were taking my daughter up there to Hawaii for several months pregnant by the time we like this, the we joke with that my son was born five years past his due date. And our daughter came right after. So I love it. Yes, it does get hectic. If you got these other things going on. While you’re working on your dissertation. We we tell our students all the time, please try to avoid the stressors. And if you look at the list that they published, you know, it’s like, you know, death and serious illness which you can’t avoid those unfortunately. But then there’s, you know, getting a job getting married, getting divorced, having a kid, moving. And you’re basically checking off all the boxes. And it’s still

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  11:38

happened, right? remarkably, yes. I broke all the rules. It did happen. And I never looked back. And I’m so proud of it. Yes, still to this day.

Dr. Russell Strickland  11:48

So let’s look, let’s look back, what would you attribute? Like you said, You broke all the rules, all of this stuff going on your life? What would you attribute your success to being able to finish? Because it was it’s not a given? Right? It’s a statistically speaking, it’s a coin flip, basically 5050 chance when you go into a graduate program as to whether you’re going to get your doctoral degree or not. So what would you think what would you attribute it to?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  12:10

Um, tenacity, drive, sort of passion, a competitive edge, competitive spirit? I’m a little more tenacity. Yeah. very supportive wife. Yes. And the cohort model, it didn’t work for everybody, because our stats were 50% made it 50% didn’t we had hoped that more would, right I do have a couple of very close friends in the core, we developed a close, professional, non personal friendship, and we motivated each other. So those accountability coaches, before I even knew what an accountability coach was, really chip the scale or put the thumb on the scale, as they say, to get me over the hump and to get me to be a doctor. Yeah,

Dr. Russell Strickland  12:56

I I think that’s it, like you said, the tenacity, the drive. That’s common. I think in all doctoral students, you just don’t get to that level unless you are really committed. Everyone I talked to, as always says, I’ve never quit anything, and I never will. Neither do the other guys that don’t take it right program. But that’s it. I really think it’s that that notion of having support that’s so important. One of our students, one of our early students, did her dissertation research on the types of support you need. If you’re kind of going through this unconventional doctoral program where you’re not in school and in class every single day, you don’t have that community there necessarily. And she found that you need emotional support, you need operational support, which is how the heck do I do this thing. And both of those were critical. If you didn’t have either one, your chances of graduating were dramatically reduced. If you had both emotional support, and in particular, from people who knew what the heck was going on. All right now, so your wife if she hadn’t been through this before, she could provide you with a certain type of support, but not everything you need. would you would you agree? 100%? I concur. 100% with you? Absolutely. Yes. And then you’ve got the cohort that’s we’re all going through this together. So we’re cheerleading. So to some extent, were the blind leading the blind, but that can go. And then you also certainly had someone out there telling you kind of what to do, because tenacity without proper direction. Just just gets you to the wrong place eventually. But that’s great. I’m so happy to hear that you that you made it through that that cohort was so supportive. It’s too bad that apparently not everyone in the cohort really availed themselves of the cohort because that would be what I would think would be the difference between this division. And we had when I was at the University of Chicago, would they have this at the end of the first year at this horrible qualification exam, kimsey exam, they call it their, um, where the faculty take delight in telling the students that none of the faculty can pass this exam because you need to go deep in like everybody special Tea, you know, and they would tell us like in the middle of the summer, don’t be surprised if faculty don’t come to you and legitimately ask you questions that we want to know the answer to. Yeah, we could look it up or Yeah, we could go find the right faculty member to ask who would also know the answer. But we know you guys are supposed to know all the districts. And we had a guy who transferred into the program, supposed to been very well qualified, but did not take advantage of our study group. He just decided to do it on his own. And he was the one guy who did they said, Nope, you’re gonna have to try it again. Next year. Everybody else got beat beating them bloody but we made it through

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  15:37

made it.

Dr. Russell Strickland  15:38

Yeah. So So yeah, supports amazing. Okay, what how did your life change once you graduated? Because that’s a that’s a huge milestone, right. So what happened next?

Dr. Mike Lubelfeld  15:50

I’ll tell you, it was almost It was weird. It was almost immediate. And I don’t know if it’s supposed to be or not. But either one day or one week after I defended my dissertation through the medieval Loyola process, which was wonderful indignation. Um, what happened is a colleague of mine was an assistant superintendent, and he had been teaching as a faculty member at the university and he said, Mike, I need your help. He said, I need you to substitute professor for me. And I said, what I said that ever professors, and he said, Well, it’s principal preparation, you are a principal and you got your doctorate and you were a teacher. Okay. So I’ve been an adjunct faculty member for the Department of Educational Leadership at National Louis University here in Chicago for 15 years and going, and last year, Loyola University Chicago picked me up as a part time instructor as they’ve resurrected their Administration and Supervision program. And I love it. I’m telling you, it’s my teacher Mojo. I was a middle school teacher, eighth grade history and sixth grade history. So it’s my teaching Mojo, that I still feel grounded, I still have to do some lesson planning. And I absolutely love it. My life changed immediately. Because I still get to be a teacher, even though professionally, I was an administrator.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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