One thing I got better at over my years of teaching was devoting time and energy to really getting to know my students. And when I asked teachers for advice, this was something that came up over and over again from experienced teachers. It's hard work, learning about your students in deep and authentic ways. Knowing your students is the key to developing relationships, planning appropriate instruction, and being a culturally responsive educator. Below are some basic things you can do early in the year to start the process and show your students that you genuinely are interested in them as people, not just students.
To that end, I can't stress enough how important it is to learn students' names as quickly as possible. This is hard for me - I'm terrible at memorizing names. But I plan many activities the first day (and days) of school where I'm using students' names very often to help the process. I also require the students to learn each others' names. You'd be shocked at how long you can call on students and still have kids in the class that can't refer to each other by name. Shocked. So having time for everyone else to learn names is important too. You'd also be surprised how long students can without hearing their name spoken to them (days. yes, days). So learning students names and using them frequently helps create a culture that shows students that they are important. Here are a couple different resources with name games to try. As you'll see, some are more appropriate for younger and some for older grades.
No doubt you'll have some assessment data on your students, or you'll be engaged in assessing students at the beginning of the year. This can help you learn about your students as learners. In addition, an interest survey is another important step to help you know your students. An interest survey There are a ton of these available on the web, and I usually pick parts I like from multiple resources to create my own to fit the grade level I'm teaching. Favorite color might not be super helpful in learning about your students, but knowing what they might wish for if they had three wishes, what they do in their free time, if they have a homework routine, and who their friends are sure could. Here are several to get you started thinking about a survey for your students.
Planning some icebreakers is good too. These can start with name games, but the more you can have students working together as a team, the more you can reinforce a collaborative environment you want to support in your classroom - we're all in this together! Here are several to give you some ideas.
The work of getting to know your students doesn't end when you've collected this information and played these games. But it gives you a start. We'll return to this topic several times throughout the fall, to give attention once again to learning about your students.