Through her teaching, she connecting theory to practice

Erikson Institute Instructor Sarah Martinez has pursued a career that reflects her dual passion: early childhood special education and ensuring that young children’s mental health needs are being met.

“The social and emotional piece in child development is so important, but it just wasn’t covered in my initial training,” says Martinez, director of the Infancy specialization in the M.S. in Child Development program at Erikson. “Infant mental health became the receptacle for all the issues I think about in supporting the emotional health of infants and their families.”

Beyond the classroom

At Erikson, Martinez teaches courses in early intervention methods and prevention, as well as infant/toddler screening and assessment. Responsible for placing master’s and certificate students in internships, she often brings a practical approach to her classroom.

“I encourage students to share their internship experiences and apply the theories we discuss in class to the actual field work they are doing,” she says. “My role is to support them in applying the theoretical concepts that support what they want to accomplish as practitioners.”

Her ability to engage students in active participation and dynamic conversation works well to meet the diverse educational needs of those looking to someday become knowledgeable practitioners working on behalf of infants and their families.

“Some students are focused on child care and directly interacting with infants, while others are interested in becoming developmental therapists and supporting parents in facilitating development in their relationship with their child,” says Martinez. “No matter where they land, I urge my students to always be reflective about how they are partnering with caregivers to achieve better developmental outcomes.”

Broad influence

Martinez also serves as a trainer with Erikson’s Fussy Baby Network®, a direct service program that helps families struggling with infant crying, eating, and sleeping issues. Working with home visiting programs throughout the state of Illinois and across the country, she instructs home visitors in the intervention and communication method developed at Erikson known as the FAN (Facilitating Attuned Interactions).

“We are training practitioners working with families to use the FAN method in their work with parents and young children,” she says. “The FAN supports practitioners in attuning to the needs of the parent in a way that supports that person’s capacity and builds his or her confidence as a parent.”

Martinez recently served a two-year term (2014-16) as president of the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health. Her leadership in the field allows her to share cutting-edge best practices with Erikson students and connect them with opportunities for professional growth — even after they have completed the program.

“I love to work with graduates as internship supervisors,” she says. “They’ve learned best practices at Erikson and are out there engaged in the work.”

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