Instead of starting the year with the traditional introductions where each student shares personal information with the whole class, take time to have one on one introductions. This will communicate the importance of relationship building as well as teach important character skills.
1) Have each student reflect on their own story. Ask: "What is the first story about yourself that you tell a new friend?"
2) Have each student brainstorm 3 questions they think would help them learn the most about other students that they would feel comfortable answering.
3) Set students up in pairs in a way that is is easy to rotate around the classroom.
4) One student begins asking his/her questions of they other. The pair has a 1 minute time limit. After one minute the student who was asked questions has a short time to share their story if s/he would like. The first student then reflects on the answers and story s/he heard and shares the highlights or what they found most interesting about the other.
5) Repeat the above scenario in the same pairs.
6) After ~5 minutes in these pairs, have students rotate to new pairs and repeat.
7) Although their time with each other may be short and they may only have time to meet 3 new people the first day, continue the exercise throughout the first week or two until all students have met each other.
The time given to this reflective exercise will show the importance of relationship building in your class. It will also give students ample chance to practice listening, self-reflection, and hear someone else's story.