One of the most important parts of a positive classroom culture is safety. Students need to feel safe to participate, to fail, to ask questions, etc.. One of the first surveys I send out to students each year asks students who they can work well with and where they prefer to sit. Getting student feedback on these two items can help alleviate some of the anxiety caused by all of the changes a new school year can bring. This is also a good time to ask about vision and hearing impairment. While most students will let you know if they need to sit near the front, there will always be a few that are too shy to speak up. I let students know that all seating arrangements are tentative, and that changes will be made if needed to support the learning of each individual and the class as a whole.
The screenshot below is from a Google form that I have sent out to students in the past. There are plenty of programs that make surveys, but I prefer Google forms because the results live in my Google Drive so it is easy to refer back to later in the year.
Setting up group norms is also key in successful groupwork. I like to brainstorm class norms for groupwork with each class, and use these lists as a starting point to agree on a final list for all of my classes. I start with a prompt such as, "What do you think are the three most important rules for working in groups?" . Give students a few minutes to make their own list, then narrow down the list in pairs or groups, then share out with the class (Think-write-pair-share). We pick four or five for the class, and then after doing this with all 5 classes I will pick 5 common ones to post. I will also add in important norms that students may have overlooked, but generally high school students do a good job of generating them through this process. Google forms is also great for collecting input during a brainstorming process, though I haven't specifically used it during the group and classroom norms process.
After we start working in groups I will send out surveys to help students self assess how well they are working in the group, and whether or not there are any issues with the group. Getting feedback on group set-up and progress helps students feel safe, and gives them a voice.
Another use of surveys for community building is a quick beginning of class icebreaker (favorite movie, favorite breakfast food, favorite song, etc.). Icebreakers can be done without technology of course, but if you have access to technology for each student then it is a quick process, and a great way to help students get to know each other. If you are not familiar with Google forms, there are online tutorials and videos to get you started. Socrative is a another program that works well for this type of activity, and definitely worth checking into.
What types of activities/supports do you implement during the first week of school to help build community in your classroom? Please share!