An anonymous tip:
This semester, I threw out the two-year old syllabus and started over. I did not realize (until a student pointed out on the evaluation) how negative and punitive my syllabus really was. So, here's what I did:
My first statement - before we get to grading - policies - rules... is Instructor Contact -
My job is to help you to be successful in this class, so please come see me outside of the classroom if you need to talk about anything at all. The sooner the better! My official office hours will be held on Tuesdays from 1:00 - 2:00 pm; Wednesdays from 4:30 - 5:30 pm; and Thursdays from 8:30 - 10:00 am. If these times don't work for you, please let me know and we'll figure some alternative time to meet. Also remember to email me with questions on class content or assigned work.
I follow this with "why come to class" (or 'why participate" for the online class), telling them some highlights of what we'll be covering and why it's important for them to come/participate, and that just submitting work is not enough to understand the material.
Then I continue with General Course Information, followed by Course Content and assessment measures. After that comes all the institutional requirements and other special things to help them.
I give a syllabus quiz. Don't laugh - I've had students complete the entire course and not remember my name!) I asked students how they liked their syllabus - was it understandable - easy to read - positive? 93% said it was positive, and they felt like they could approach me with a question or clarification. Yippee! I'm doing it for every other class!